Who Was Micah?
Micah is another relatively unknown prophet, though from the book that bears him name we can learn a few things about him.
Micah doesnt say much about himself, but the historical references he gives shows that he ministered as a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. From his geographic references, we learn that he was from Moresheth (1:1), a town some twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem1 and so near the Philistine city of Gath that it was also called Moresheth-Gath (1:14), as in a suburb (like the reference to Bethlehem-Judah in Scripture).
This little town lay in the Judean foothills, and area known as the shephelah2 (Hebrew for low land), a fertile area between Judah and Philistia. These facts have lead to speculation about Micahs socio-economic status, but truly say no more than that he did not live in a very prestigious commercial center. Also given the fact that Isaiah was the "court prophet" of the day and Amos was the "layman" sent to Israel in the north, Micah was probably called to minister to the inhabitants of Judah in a general sense. That is, while addressing the leaders, rulers, priests, and (false) prophets in Judah, his immediate audience included more of the common people while Isaiah also had direct access to the royal court.
Micah was a strong prophet in the sense that his messages were potent and sharp. He acknowledged that he did not rely on the support of other people and was single-minded in his dependence upon God alone (7:1-13). In his days of false prophets, injustice and corruption from Judahs leaders, he felt almost isolated in standing strong for the Lord.
The Background for Micah
The Infectious Nature of Corruption
Micah characterizes his times as times of corruption, injustice and lies as an infection from Israels fatal idolatry spreading to the very gates of Jerusalem. The beginning of Micahs ministry was before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, and he mentions them as being on the verge of destruction. It is interesting that he doesnt mention any king of Israel as does Amos and Hosea.
It was obvious to the prophets that the northern kingdom was about to fall. Amos said God had put a plumbline against the wall of Israel, and "one strong push was sufficient to bring down the edifice in ruin, and the push was administered by the Assyrians"3.
Micah mentions three kings of Judah: Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). Jotham is described as doing "right in the sight of the Lord", although he didnt remove altars to false Gods in Judah (2 Kings 15:34,35).
Jothams son, Ahaz, is described as not following the Lord but rather acting like the kings of Israel with their idolatry, even to the point of offering his son as an offering by fire (2 Kings 16:2, 3). It is this kind of evil influence from Israel that Micah says "has come to Judah; it has reached the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem" (1:9).
During the reign of Ahaz, Israel made an alliance with Syria and invaded Judah (2 Kings 16:5). Ironically, Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help (2 Kings 16:7-9), which the king of Assyria was only too glad to give since it strengthened Assyrias position along their western borders. Assyria captured Damascus and thus won a strategic position for the imminent ruin of Israel. This obviously also put them in the perfect position to threaten Judah.
The most disastrous effects of Ahazs alliance with Assyria were the religious implications. Once the king of Assyria dealt with Israel in the north, Ahaz went to Damascus and became not only a tributary king to Assyria, but an instrument of spreading the Assyrian cultic worship of Ashur. Ahaz returned to Jerusalem and transformed much of the Temple of Yahweh into a place for sacrifices to Ashur (2 Kings 16:10-18).
Much of Isaiahs ministry before the days of Hezekiah had to do with advising Ahaz against making this tragic alliance with Assyria.
Hezekiah, a son of Ahaz, became king after his father died. Hezekiah "did right in the sight of the Lord" and lead a thorough revival throughout Judah (2 Kings 18:1-6). He removed all the centers of false worship he could find and was steadfastly faithful to the Law of God. It is ironic that a brother had been sacrificed to a false god by his father, Ahaz, yet he was like a second King David in Gods eyes (2 Kings 18:5,6).
It it ironic, too, that in the days of the righteous reign of Hezekiah God gave a most profound demonstration of His power both to Judah and all the world the destruction of Sennacheribs army (2 Kings 18, 19; 2 Chronicles 32).
Thus the ministry of Micah covered a broad spectrum of national attitude: from that of a good king in Jotham to an evil, idolatrous king in Ahaz, to a strong king of faith and righteousness in Hezekiah. In spite of the ups and downs in moral and religious character, though, there was a numbing infection well set in the fabric of various leaders in Judah: rulers, judges, princes, priests, and prophets.
Micah called on the influential leaders of Judah to return to Gods standards of justice and truth (3:1ff) and for the false teachers and prophets to stop their lies (3:5ff). The results of the character of the leadership upon the nation was showing up in all aspects of Judean life: greed, bribery, cheating, dishonesty, and family strife are themes found in Micah again and again.
In spite of the goodness of Jotham and the religious reforms of Hezekiah, Judah was falling into the patterns of Israel and in grave danger of judgment from God.
The Assyrian Threat5
The time of Micah was also a time when the mighty Assyrian empire was approaching the peak of its international power. At each change in the Assyrian court, however when a new king took the throne the spreading empires remote provinces saw an opportunity for revolt. Israel and Judah found themselves in the geographic center of attention. Egypt to the southwest continually promoted rebellion against Assyria; Babylon to the east plotted against them; Media to the north of Babylon and east of Assyria were beginning to see the benefits of joining with Babylon against the imperial power of Assyria. Then there was Assyria itself, strong and proud, just to the northeast of Palestine.
At each rebellion, the new king of Assyria would launch a campaign to suppress and punish those in revolt, and to extend if possible the lands under Assyrian control. Micah prophesied during a time of three quick transitions in Assyria. Tiglathpilesar had answered King Ahazs (Judah) request for help against Israel, which brought the Assyrian power close by. When the Assyrian king died, King Hoshea (Israel) joined with a few other provinces in rebellion. This brought Tiglathpilesars successor, Shalmaneser, back to Palestine, where he laid siege against Samaria. During the time of this siege (3 years), Shalmaneser died and was followed by Sargon, who captured and destroyed Samaria, thus bringing the final destruction upon Israel as prophesied by Amos, Hosea, and Micah.
In the south, King Hezekiah paid a heavy tribute to Sargon to keep the Assyrians at bay. When Sargon died, however, Sennacherib took the Assyrian throne and decided to extend the power of his empire into Palestine. He broke the treaty with Judah, routed several cities all around Jerusalem, and then lay siege to Jerusalem itself.
Sennacheribs suppression of rebellion was so successful that he came with great pride to Judah. He boasted that none of the gods of his defeated enemies were able to withstand the strength of his armies, so it would be foolish to trust in Yahweh for deliverance. Sennacherib, the Emperor of the mightiest nation on earth, blasphemed and ridiculed the God of Israel, challenging Him: "Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kings 18:35; see 2 Kings 18, 19; 2 Chronicles 32).
Yahweh answered Sennacheribs challenge. It is described with terrible beauty in a poem by Lord Byron.
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Outline of Micah
Title: Voices of Confusion
Theme: Discerning Truth Amid Good-Sounding Lies
1. The Spread of Corruption (1:22:13)
2. The Cure for Corruption (3:15:15)
3. The Causes of Corruption (6:1-7:8)
4. Responding to Corruption (7:9-20)
- Endure discipline with confident trust in God (7:9-13)
- Pray for God to bring the cure (7:14-20)
The Message of Micah
In preaching against the horrible corruption in Judah, Micah focused on the fact that their leaders discarded the truth in favor of lies (e.g., 2:11; 3:2). In each of the first three sections of Micah he brings out the fact that Gods truth is the core issue. By discarding Gods Law in favor of mans policies (especially that of Omris laws and Ahabs behaviors), the spread of corruption penetrated all levels of Jewish society: kings, princes, rulers, priests, prophets, husband and wife, children and parents.
The cure for such corruption involved two things: purging the evil from Judah; and, establishing truth as the chief character of the future kingdom of Israel. The purging would be accomplished by destruction and exile (4:9,10). The establishment of truth would be accomplished by God Himself taking the throne of Israel (4:1-8).
Micahs message came in the midst of many voices making various claims of Gods leniency and grace (cf. 2:7; 3:5, 11). The nature of truth is that it brings blessing and joy, but all that Judah experienced in Micahs time showed the exact opposite: robbery, lying, bribery, greed, religious hypocrisy, fear, and unrest. This shows that a test of what is true and what is false can be seen in the experiencial results as one conforms ones life to the teaching being embraced.
Micah clearly "zooms in" on the fundamental essence of Gods instructions in 6:8. Three things will test whether or not it is Gods truth we follow: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. While these three areas penetrate all aspect of our lives, we can see the burden of Micahs ministry in them as well: civil order based upon Gods truth; social order based upon Gods truth; and, spiritual order based upon Gods truth.
In days when claims of truth permeate our world, we have a sure test for discerning the truth. God has said what it is that He requires from us. Anything contrary to that teaching is not the truth. As John says, "... we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).
1Swindoll, Gods Masterwork, page 54.
3F.F. Bruce. Israel and the Nations. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1975. Page 60.
4Ibid., page 65.
5This historical overview is based upon 2 Kings 18, 19 and the work of F.F. Bruces Israel and the Nations (see above).
6George Gordon, Lord Byron. "The Destruction of Sennacherib", in English Romantic Writers, ed. by David Perkins. Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc. 1967. Page 792.