Previous Study: The Book of the Prophet Micah – Part 1
The Announcement of Judgment
Micah begins his ministry with a summons to the people, calling them to hear the words of Yahweh. Micah tells the people that Yahweh “will be a witness against you. The Lord will be a witness from his holy temple” (Micah 1:2). In announcing his message, Micah proclaimed God’s judgment upon both Samaria and Jerusalem.
Micah preached his message both before and after the fall of Samaria and the exile of the Northern Kingdom. His message to Jerusalem was one of divine judgment attributed primarily to social injustice and the oppression of the poor. Samaria and Jerusalem were the centers of the political and religious power of both nations, but the people of Israel and Judah had turned away from the covenant obligation which demanded sincere worship and social justice for all members of the community.
Micah also prophesied that God would punish both nations because they had turned from him to worship false gods. The sin of Samaria was related mostly to cultic offenses, especially idolatry. However, Micah was more concerned about Samaria’s social injustices than idolatry. The consequence of God’s judgment would soon fall on Samaria, but Jerusalem would also be confronted with the reality of divine judgment.
Isaiah and Micah both proclaimed the destruction of Samaria. Micah saw the destruction of Samaria as a precursor of the fate of Jerusalem. Micah proclaimed that the wounds of Judah could not be healed, “For her wound is incurable. It has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem” (Micah 1:9). In order to avoid the coming of judgment, the people would have to acknowledge their sins and turn from their iniquities.
Hans Walter Wolf believes that Micah was one of the elders of Moresheth before the start of his ministry in Jerusalem (Wolff 1978, 38). In this regard, Wolf suggests that Micah, as a village elder, was very much involved in the social events of his day rather than being merely a country prophet. However, in my review of Wolf’s book, I said that Wolf’s view is not based on sound biblical evidence (Mariottini 1982, 691).
In Chapter 1, the text says that Micah the Morashtite spoke the words of God during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Jotham was king of Judah from 752 to 735 BCE, Ahaz was king from 735 to 715 BCE, and Hezekiah ruled from 715 to 687 BCE. Based on the information provided in the superscription of the book, Micah prophesied during the latter part of the eighth century and, thus he was a contemporary of Isaiah in the south and Hosea and Amos in the north.
In comparing the message of Micah with Isaiah’s message, the reader concludes that Micah was not as concerned with the political dealings of foreign nations as Isaiah was. Isaiah’s messages were often addressed directly to the kings of Judah. Isaiah and Micah delivered similar messages in denouncing and condemning the greed and social injustices perpetrated by the rich and powerful people in Judah. Micah also shared with Isaiah the promise of God’s future universal rule (Isaiah 2:1–4; Micah 4:1–4).
The Message of Micah
Micah’s oracles could be summarized as a message of sin, warning, punishment, and salvation balanced by threats of doom and promises of messianic hope. Hence, Micah not only pronounced judgment and destruction, but he also had a message of hope and of the restoration of Jerusalem. Micah also prophesied against the priest and false prophets because they failed in their duties to speak out against the injustices perpetrated by the ruling class.
According to Juan Alfaro (Alfaro 1989, 7), the book of Micah attributes primary responsibility for the decadent moral and social condition of the nation mainly to four privileged groups:
Political powers: princes, elders and military officials who exploited the people and used their power to steal and abuse.
Judicial powers: Judges, elders who made justice a convenient commodity for their enrichment.
Religious powers: Priests and prophets whose real god was money.
Economic powers: the rich, landowners, hoarders and merchants who deceived, stole, and cheated through every conceivable means, without regard for the most basic rights and dignity of the poor.
Micah condemned the false prophets for not speaking the truth and for misleading the people into a false sense of security. The priests and religious leaders were criticized for their lack of moral commitment to stand against the widespread injustices throughout the nation. They had sold themselves to the system and condoned the unjust practices of the rich and made the temple worship an obstacle to the true conversion of the people.
The desire for wealth created a system where poor people were cheated out of their land and became obligated or financially indebted to the corrupt landowners. According to Micah 2:1, the powerful took over the fields and homes of the weak, “What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so” (Micah 2:1 NLT).
The poor and the powerless would receive no relief from the judges or the political authorities whose duties were to protect their rights. The priests had also allowed the people to think that they could please God through sacrifices and rituals without justice and moral integrity.
In spite of the deplorable conditions, the voice of the poor and the powerless was not heard. The prophet Micah became their voice and he proclaimed to the leaders of Judah that God was concerned for justice for the poor. Micah’s oracle in Chapter 6 is a covenant lawsuit in which the prophet acts as God’s attorney in presenting God’s case against the people who are accused of ingratitude and injustice. The people had forgotten that it was Yahweh who delivered them from bondage out of the land of Egypt and instead of trusting in him, the people had placed their trust in foreign powers, military strength, and idols.
The destruction of the Northern Kingdom should have served as a warning to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The prophet’s mission was not only to announce judgment but also included an effort to persuade the people to turn from their sinful ways. However, the socio/political and economic systems were so corrupted with injustice, so deeply rooted with corruption, that the only solution was divine judgment and destruction.
The leaders of Judah were not willing to place their trust in God which required both moral commitment and social changes. This degenerate condition was very reflective of the situation Jerusalem faced during the reign of Ahaz. Micah’s expression of grief in anticipation of the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem included going naked and barefoot, similar to the prophet Isaiah, “For this I will lament and wail; I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches” (Micah 1:8).
Micah’s pronouncement against the injustice opened with a formal accusation against the powerful landowners: “They confiscate the fields they desire, and seize the houses they want. They defraud people of their homes, and deprive people of the land they have inherited” (Micah 2:2 NET).
Micah’s attack against the landowners provoked a confrontation with the false prophets who had prophesied that God was on their side. The taking of the land from the poor was seen as one of the most serious crimes committed by the ruling class because the land had been an inheritance people had received from their ancestors. As a result of the unjust system, people who once owned the land would now have to hire themselves out to the new landowner in order to earn a living.
Micah’s denunciation of the covetousness of the landowners can be linked directly to the violation of the Tenth Commandment as expressed in Deuteronomy 5:21, which says, “Neither shall thou desire thy neighbor’s wife, neither shall thou covet thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor’s.” The Decalogue clearly states that it was not God’s intention that the land should be owned by a few people, but that each person in Israel should have his own house and land.
The prophet Isaiah had also condemned the land grabbers who prospered at the expense of the poor, “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room (Isa 5:8). Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Micah during his ministry in Jerusalem, witnessed the same sinful religious and corrupt political systems that Micah did. The poor were impoverished and deprived of their inheritance due to injustices perpetrated by the powerful landowners and the ruling class. Because of these injustices, poor people were being relegated to a life of misery and oppression with no hope for the future.
Micah 2:1 says that the rich had plotted evil against the poor at night and took their fields by violence. This indicates that those who were oppressing the poor and depriving them of their inheritance were either in politics or in the military, as Wolff advocates. Chapter 2 contains a woe against such a practice and announces that God would exercise judgment against the rich when they themselves would become powerless and deprived of their property. Eventually the destruction and deportation that had befallen Samaria would happen to Jerusalem for the sins and iniquities of the nation.
The leaders of Judah did not want to hear the words of Micah, the true prophet of God. They would rather prefer that he would prophesy about good things such as wine and strong drink, “If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ such a one would be the preacher for this people” (Micah 2:11).
However, they did not succeed in their efforts to silence the preaching of Micah who continued to speak out against the wealthy and ruling class for their treatment of the poor. In contrast to Micah’s prophecy, the rich and wealthy landowners were supported by the preaching of the false prophets and the religious establishment. Although in the days of Hezekiah Jerusalem survived the siege of the Assyrian army, the day of judgment for Judah was not far away; it would come by the hands of the Babylonians.
The announcement of judgment against the rich landowners was followed by a denunciation of the false prophets who had become the defenders of the rich and ruling class for the purpose of maintaining the status quo and protecting their vested interest.
All Posts on This Series:
NOTE: For other studies on the prophet Micah, read my post Studies on Micah the Prophet.
Wolff, Hans W. Micah the Prophet. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.
Mariottini, Claude F. “Review of Micah the Prophet.” Review & Expositor 79 (1982): 691.
Alfaro, Juan I. Micah: Justice and Loyalty. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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