Study of the Prophets #16: Micah (Introduction)
This week we are going to turn our attention away from Northern Israel, Edom, and Nineveh to Judah, while staying in the eight century. Isaiah and Micah were contemporary with Hosea but Amos probably had started and completed his work shortly before either began their ministries. Isaiah was one of the major prophets and will be addressed in a future study. For now, we concentrate on another of the minor prophets; Micah.
Micah was probably a few years younger than Isaiah. His ministry is dated to the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). Because he does not mention Uzziah as does Isaiah, he evidently started his ministry a little later, and because he mentions nothing about the invasion of Sennacherib in the day of Hezekiah, he probably ceased earlier. The most likely timing for Micah is 735-710 BCE. These dates are challenged by some scholars but there is additional evidence to validate their correctness. That Micah ministered during the time f Hezekiah is indicated directly by Jeremiah: in 26:18, 19, here refers to Micah as prophesying in Hezekiah’s day and quotes Micah 3:12. That he prophesied prior to 722 BCE, the date of Samaria’s fall- during the reign of Ahaz- is indicated by Micah’s direct prediction of the fall in 1:2-6. Furthermore, that he was active in the time of Jotham is implied by his reference to the horses and chariots of Judah in 5:10, a suggestion of prosperity in the land. This would have been consistent especially in Jotham’s time following the prosperous days of Uzziah.
Micah gives a few clues in his book as to his work and person, but he does not include any historical episodes as does Isaiah nor is he mentioned in any of the historical book of the Tanakh. He identifies his hometown as Moresheth (1:1), which is synonymous with Moresheth-gath (1:14), located in the western lowlands of Judah about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Moresheth was a small rural city, so Micah would have had contact with rural people from the beginning of his life. The community was generally poor, and his book reflects his concern for them. The city was also located near the international highway leading north to south accommodating caravan travel. This may explain his knowledge of international affairs, not unlike the prophets we previously studied. Although the source of their knowledge of world affairs differed, the fact that G-d chose each of the prophets and each of them were savvy regarding international affairs seems to present a sort of qualification G-d used in prophecy through these men. Micah shows particular knowledge and interest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He may even have been influenced by Amos who ministered at Bethel about 25 years earlier. He may also have been influenced by Amos’ writing, as indicated by a comparison of Micah 2:6 with Amos 2:12; 7:10-16. Amos’ hometown of Tekoa was only 20 miles east of Moresheth. It would not be out of the question for Amos and Micah to have been in contact frequently.
Micah moved around and did not stay in the area of his hometown indicated by implied contacts with Jerusalem and her people. He was familiar with false prophets, whose center was especially the capital city, saying that they made G-d’s people err (3:5-7). Micah was well known as Jeremiah makes mention of him (Jer. 26:18). It is quite unusual that Jeremiah mentions Micah. The prophets did not ordinarily mention each other. Furthermore, Jeremiah lived a century after Micah. It implies that Micah made a very strong impression during his time and that he must have ministered frequently in and around Jerusalem where he evidently made quite an impression. Also, the manner of reference of Jeremiah is significant because it shows that Hezekiah, who was king during Micah’s later ministry, not only knew Micah, but held him in high esteem. There is insufficient evidence to believe that Micah had as much contact with kings as did Isaiah, but most prophets did not have as much contact as Isaiah. The point is that Micah should not be perceived as a mere shadow of Isaiah; G-d has specific purposes for each of us and these prophets were no exception. The emphasis of Micah’s ministry was to speak of sin and warn of certain punishment if repentance was not demonstrated. Micah was well aware of what was going on in the Northern Kingdom and he used this knowledge to ward Judah that they were not immune to G-d’s punishment if they continued to sin.
The Book of Micah is made up of three sections, each beginning with the imperative “Hear” (1:2; 3:1; 6:1). It seems these sections are compilations of thoughts, spoken at various times throughout Micah’s ministry. Bringing his thoughts together from several different times in his ministry, he shows similarity to Isaiah in many of his thoughts and the way he delivers them, even including a particular passage which is nearly identical to one of Isaiah’s (Mic. 4:1-3; cf. Isa.2:2-4). Scholars have had a field day trying to account for this in a variety of ways, but there has not arisen any solid explanation.
The Book of Micah addresses numerous subjects, moving quickly from one to another. Because of this, some liberal scholars maintain that the book was written by more than one author. However, Isaiah also treats subject matter in the same way, and there has been no evidence validating any claims that there were multiple writers of Isaiah.
Some subjects on which to focus in the Book of Micah are the following:
* a definite reference to the fall of Samaria (1:5-7)
* exhortation regarding the oppression of the poor (2:1-3:4)
* and prediction of the Messiah both as to His first and second advents
The following provides an outline of the Book of Micah:
I. Coming punishment on Israel and Judah (1:1-2:13)
A. Both Israel and Judah to be punished (1:1-16)
B. This punishment the result of sin (2:1-13)
II. The future messianic kingdom (3:1-5:15)
A. Preparatory punishment of wicked leaders (3:1-5:15)
B. The glorious kingdom (4:1-13)
C. The glorious King and His work (5:1-15)
III. Punishment of the people and final mercy (6:1-7:20)
A. G-d’s controversy with the people (6:1-16)
B. Reproof and promise (7:1-20).
Chapter 1:1- again Micah’s homeland is identified and the timing; mentioning the kings during the time of his ministry, and his prophecy concerning Samaria and Jerusalem; the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The word of the L-rd came to him in a vision. Micah chastises the nations for their rebellion against G-d and their intolerable actions toward one another. He foretells the Babylonian exile 150 years before it occurred (4:100 and the devastation of Jerusalem while it seemed untouchable, in all its glory and splendor (3:12).
Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the 10th, 11th, and 12th kings of the kingdom of Judah, each the son of his predecessor. Jotham reigned for 16 years (II Kings 15:33), as did Ahaz (16:2); Hezekiah ruled for 29 years (18:2). The Book of Micah does not mention any of the monarchs of the Northern Kingdom although the Books of Hosea and Amos make mention of them. Abarbanel maintains that the prophets who were from Judah or Benjamin did not recognize the monarchs of the Northern Kingdom as true kings, as they were not of the Davidic dynasty. The prophets considered these men to be usurpers and enemies of G-d.
Verse 2: “Hear, O peoples, all of them! Listen, O Land and its fullness! Let the L-rd Hashem/Elohim be a witness against you, the L-rd from His holy Sanctuary.”
This seems to be an ambiguous sentence because of the third person pronoun used; “all of them.” It appears as if the people (all tribes of Israel, Northern and Southern Kingdoms) are being addressed indirectly. Radak and Abarbanel maintain this is a peculiarity of the Scriptural form. It is also important to note the use of Elohim in addition to Hashem; the use of this Name signifying G-d’s attribute of mercy. Elohim, on the other hand, denotes His might and power. Its use in this sentence indicates G-d as Echad in His fullness from His holy Sanctuary is a witness against His people’s sins. The “Land” is Israel and its “fullness” is the Israelite nation that inhabits it. The use of Elohim also implies judgment. According to Mizrachi, the combination of Hashem /Elohim expresses a plea even in judgment that mercy temper the judgment decree. Furthermore, although G-d’s actions may appear harsh at times, in essence it is tough love in the ultimate sense; it is a manifestation of His love and mercy. We are a stiffnecked people indeed; sometimes G-d must allow us to burn our fingers or worse before we realize His instructions are just and true and that disobedience will not be tolerated forever.
The word “Hear” means three things in this verse. First, it means to physically hear. Secondly it means to express a readiness to listen to what is being said; to show an interest I what is being said. Finally, it means to express an anxiousness to hear more, to activate the sense of hearing to receive a message more fully (R’S.R.Hirsh, Psalms 5:3). Accordingly, Micah is instruction the nation not to simply hear the message physically, but be anxiously attentive to every word and understand the implications. This is the full meaning of the word “hear” used in the narratives of the seven assemblies mentions in Matthew and Revelation:
Matt. 11:15; 13:9; Rev. 2:7; 3:6-8; 13:9.
Next week we will continue beginning with Chapter 1:3.
R. Tamah Davis