Things seemed great for Samaria and Jerusalem: the two kingdoms enjoyed a level of prosperity and security. Surely YHWH[i] was blessing His people! Within forty years Assyria fully ravaged Israel and all of Judah surrounding Jerusalem. Neither Samaria nor Jerusalem could claim the disaster came without warning, for Micah of Moresheth had pronounced God's judgments upon them.
We are not told much about Micah. His name means "who is like YHWH?" and is reflected in the final question of the book (cf. Micah 7:18-20). Micah 1:1 informs us that Micah came from Moresheth (likely the Moresheth-gath of Micah 1:14, about 22 miles southwest of Jerusalem in Judah) and the word of YHWH came to him in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (ca. 750-685 BCE; Menahem, Pekaiah, Pekah, and Hoshea were kings of Israel in Samaria at this time). No other biographical details are mentioned.
Micah's prophecies are presented as two cycles of judgment and restoration. In theme and content, Micah's prophecies are most similar to Hosea and Isaiah's early material (Micah 4:1-3, in fact, is almost identical with Isaiah 2:2-4). He denounces both Israel and Judah for their idolatry and the oppression and injustices perpetuated by the ruling classes. Israel and Judah are presented as kingdoms at ease, full of wealth accumulated by some to the detriment of the rest, complacent in their relationship with God.
The first cycle of judgment and restoration, Micah 1:1-5:15, is longer and more expansive. After the introduction (Micah 1:1), Micah pronounces judgment against Samaria for her idolatry (Micah 1:2-7). He laments on account of the judgment on Judah; they have followed the ways of Israel and will suffer humiliation as well (Micah 1:8-16). Micah then speaks directly to the rulers, pronouncing woes upon them for dispossessing the poor (Micah 2:1-5). He remains steadfast despite their chastisement; all is not well in Judah, their oppression has been noted, judgment will come, and God will then gather the remnant of His people (Micah 2:6-13). Micah again indicts the rulers of the people for perverting justice, condemning as well the priests and prophets who speak deceitfully with a view only to their own gain, preaching a message of peace and prosperity despite impending doom (Micah 3:1-12). Micah turns toward a message of restoration, speaking of the re-establishment of Zion, the ingathering of the nations, and the peace and prosperity of those days (Micah 4:1-5). YHWH will then make the weak strong and will rule over them (Micah 4:6-8). Judah will have to endure the exile of Babylon, but YHWH will rescue them and restore their fortunes (Micah 4:9-13). A ruler will be born in Bethlehem and will shepherd YHWH's people and be their peace (Micah 5:1-5a). YHWH will rescue His people from the hand of the Assyrians (Micah 5:5b-6). YHWH will gather all of the remnant of Jacob and will give them victory over their enemies, but only after they themselves have endured trials, devastation, and the destruction of their idols (Micah 5:7-15).
The second cycle of judgment and restoration, Micah 6:1-7:20, is more compact, perhaps a concluding "restatement" of Micah's core message. Micah again sets forth YHWH's contention with Israel: He rescued and saved Israel from Egypt and through the wilderness (Micah 6:1-5), wanting His people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly above any offering or sacrifice (Micah 6:6-8). Nevertheless, the people are wicked and deceitful; judgment will come upon them because they have acted as Omri and Ahab did (Micah 6:9-16). Micah vividly describes the iniquity and depravity of the people; despite such an environment, he will wait for YHWH (Micah 7:1-7). Micah then speaks as if he is Jerusalem, having been humbled in judgment but waiting for YHWH's redemption (Micah 7:8-10). Jerusalem will prosper and her enemies will be brought low, stooping in fear (Micah 7:11-17). Micah concludes by asking who is a God like YHWH, forgiving sins, displaying faithfulness and love toward Israel, confident in YHWH's mercy and faithfulness to Jacob (Micah 7:18-20).
All that Micah predicted came to pass. The Assyrians overran Israel and Judah; only Jerusalem was spared. Around a hundred years later, some of the elders of Judah stood up against the execution of Jeremiah, reminding the people of Micah's message in Micah 3:12 (Jeremiah 26:18-19). Those elders knew disaster was coming: Micah declared it (Micah 3:11-12, 4:10) and so it would be in 586 BCE. YHWH brought disaster upon Judah: Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the people were exiled to Babylon.
Yet YHWH still loved Israel and proved faithful despite her faithlessness. A ruler would again be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6), and to His Kingdom the nations would come and find true peace and prosperity (Micah 4:1-5, Colossians 1:13-23). YHWH's faithfulness and steadfast love remain; are we willing to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God in Christ?
- Biblical Insights, August 2012
[i] YHWH is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for the name of God (known as the tetragrammaton), and translated variously as LORD, Jehovah or Yahweh.