The present post is the third study on the book of Micah. The two previous studies on this series are as follow:
During his ministry, Micah had to contend with many false prophets who criticized him for the message he was preaching, “‘Do not prophesy,’ their prophets say. ‘Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us’” (Micah 2:6).
The false prophets were overconfident in thinking that God was on their side because he had promised a Davidic king as long as the nation existed, notwithstanding the sins of the Judean leaders, sins which Micah had been proclaiming to the people of Judah. The preaching of the false prophet was based on Zion theology, a theology which taught that Jerusalem would be unconditionally preserved by God because Jerusalem was the place where the house of God was located. The false prophets believed that, because of the temple, Jerusalem was a city protected by God.
These false prophets had rationalized the injustices committed by the rich and the powerful with false oracles and religious arguments that served to justify their ministry as prophets. As a result, Micah proclaimed that God would close the mouth of the false prophets and bring darkness to them so that they would no longer have a vision.
Micah proclaimed, “This is what the LORD says: ‘As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him. Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God’” (Micah 3:5–7).
However, unlike the false prophets, who had subverted the truth with a sense of false security, Micah spoke as a true prophet who represented the voice of the powerless. Micah said, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).
Micah’s message denounced the socio/political crimes and corruption of the dominant culture who prospered at the expense of the poor. The people who were to be protected from injustice and oppression according to laws of the covenant, the poor, the widows and orphans, were the main victims who suffered the most from the unjust and corrupt systems prevalent in Micah’s day. As such, Micah’s message included oracles against the judges, the priests, and the prophets because they were the ones to whom the poor would go for help.
Micah, also condemned the merchants for use of false weights in defrauding the poor. Through Micah, God condemned those who robbed the poor, “Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights?” (Micah 6:11). The Law said that anyone who defrauded another by the use of dishonest weights or measures was an abomination unto God, “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 25:13–16).
The message of Micah was not only to expose the sins of the people but also to bring about changes in moral and social values that would be expressed in justice, love, and kindness toward one another. However, the people continued to disregard the call to repentance. Because of the people’s failure to turn to God, Micah proclaimed the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem, “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height” (Micah 3:12).
A century later, the prophet Jeremiah was threatened with death for prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction. In defense of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the elders of Judah reminded the people that Micah had prophesied in the days of Hezekiah a similar fate for Jerusalem and the temple and that he was not put to death because of what he had said against the city and against the temple. The reason Jerusalem was not destroyed in Micah’s day was because his ministry and his message had a positive influence on the religious reforms instituted by Hezekiah.
Thus, for Micah the sins of the religious and political leaders would be the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem. Micah accused the leaders of Jerusalem of abhorring judgment and perverting all equity. Micah said, “Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money” (Micah 3:9–11).
In spite of the depths of Judah’s sins, Micah proclaimed the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah. Micah spoke of a remnant who would be gathered together and brought back to Jerusalem. With this new exodus, God would make a new beginning with Israel and renew its mission in the world.
Thus, punishment and destruction would not be the last word. Micah announced the exile to Babylon, but he also announced that the Yahweh would redeem Judah from the hands of her enemies, “Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion, like a woman in labor; for now you shall go forth from the city and camp in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hands of your enemies” (Micah 4:10). Thus, according to Micah, there would be a remnant who would return from captivity and there would be a redistribution of the land which would exclude those who had exploited and oppressed the poor.
In reference to the restoration of Judah, Micah announced that a future ruler would come from the little town of Bethlehem, the birth place of King David, “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). Micah’s oracle is a denouncement of the monarchy and the Judean kings. Micah’s prophecy of a new David proclaimed the coming of a new David who would reign in righteousness and would rule with justice. However, Micah’s dream for the future ruler had to wait for the birth of the Son of David in Bethlehem.
Micah proclaimed a message of universal peace, a day when nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. In that day, when peace shall prevail over all the earth, nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Micah 4:3).
The pronouncement of judgment against Jerusalem is contrasted against the eschatological oracle of promise in Micah 4:1–4, which speaks about the house of the God of Jacob being established on Zion, and with it the future peace of all nations. In Micah’s vision of the new social order, there will be no need for military weapons because the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Thus, once the people have been purified of their sins, Zion will be a place of universal peace for all the people who walk in the name of God, under a system of justice and knowledge of the Lord. Micah’s idea of a future peace was rejected by the false prophets who prophesied that peace could be secured through alliances with other nations and military strength.
In Micah’s day, Assyria was a threat against the survival of Judah as an independent nation. Because of the threat posed by Assyria, the false prophets saw a need for the nation to defend itself against a possible military attack, “When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men” (Micah 5:5). However, Micah was not concerned about military strength and warned the people that peace and salvation could only come through the mighty work of God.
Influenced by the preaching of Micah, King Hezekiah began a reform in order to address the social and economic oppression of the poor and to eliminate the syncretistic practices in the worship of Yahweh. However, the reforms of Hezekiah failed to bring a lasting purification of the cult and true repentance of the people. Micah believed that only under God’s reign could there be a true conversion and lasting peace and justice in the land. Lasting peace and justice for all will be established when the house of the LORD becomes “the most important place on earth . . . and people from all over the world will stream there to worship” (Micah 4:1 NLT)
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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