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Bible Study: The Book of Micah

Micah

Micah is the fourth largest of the minor prophets. It is quoted five times in the NT, once by our Lord. The most famous quotation (Matt. 2:6) is from 5:2, the verse that predicts that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah (there was another Bethlehem up north).

Another fascinating feature of Micah is the prophet’s fondness for “punning.” Many people enjoy making plays on words. In English- speaking cultures this is not generally considered a serious literary form (although Shakespeare used it often). In Hebrew, however, such serious writings as constitute the OT have many plays on words. Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest types of literature to translate, since no two languages have the same sets of double meanings.

The name Micah—a shorter form of Mîkāyāh and Mîkāyāhû—(who is like Jehovah) advertises the fact that the prophet was a servant of the one true God, the God of Israel. Like so many prophets he had the name for God (-el) or Jehovah (-yah) as part of his name.  Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, but from a humbler social class. He came from Moresheth, near Gath, about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Micah prophesied from about 740 to about 687 b.c., during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Though his main message was to Judah, Micah did predict the captivity of the Northern Kingdom, which occurred in 722/21 b.c.

By the eighth century b.c. the old agricultural system in Israel and Judah, with its fairly even distribution of wealth, was gradually replaced by a greedy, materialistic, and harsh society that split the people sharply into the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The rich land-owners got richer and the poor farmers got poorer. The latter migrated to cities, which were characterized by poverty and vice alongside the upper classes’ luxury and also their cruelty to the poor.  Trade with pagan nations also brought in their false religious cults and lower morals.  In short, things were much like the Western world today.

Against this dark and worldly background Micah wrote his prophecy, weaving it chiefly around three cities: Samaria, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.

PREDICTION OF WRATH AGAINST ISRAEL AND JUDAH (Chap. 1)

1:1–9 The peoples are summoned by the Lord GOD to hear His message of judgment as He leaves His holy temple, the place of blessing, to witness against them.  His punishment will be severe on Samaria and Jerusalem because these cities had become the centers of idolatry. When He arrives in judgment the mountains will melt under Him, the valley will split like wax before a fire, Samaria will become a heap of ruins, all her idols will be beaten to pieces, and her wounds will be incurable.  Micah’s lament that he would wail and howl, like the lonely, nocturnal jackals and the ostriches, and go stripped and naked is the ultimate in extreme mourning.

Geographical Puns in Micah

1:10–16  Verses 10–16 are a clever lament, describing the invasion of the land by the Assyrian army. Various cities of Israel and Judah are addressed—Gath, Beth Aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth Ezel, Maroth, Jerusalem, Lachish, Moresheth Gath, Achzib, Mareshah, and Adullam—as the Assyrians draw near. There are many plays on words in this section. Moffatt has translated the passage as follows:     

Weep tears at Teartown (Bochim), grovel in the dust at Dustown (Beth-ophrah), fare forth stripped, O Fairtown (Saphir)!

Stirtown (Zaanan) dare not stir, Beth-êsel and Maroth hope in vain; for doom descends from the Eternal to the very gates of Jerusalem. To horse and drive away, O Horsetown (Lakhish), O source of Zion’s sin, where the crimes of Israel center!

O maiden Zion, you must part with Moresheth of Gath; and Israel’s kings are ever balked at Balktown (Achzib).

A conqueror would descend on Israel, and the people would flee to Adullam. Israel should shave its head bald in mourning because its precious children, that is, the people, would be taken from the land into captivity.

THE DOOM OF THE WEALTHY OPPRESSORS (2:1–11)

2:1–1 The reasons for the judgment are recited here. The rich people dispossessed the poor of their houses and land by violence. As a result, this property would be taken from the rich by a foreign invader, and they would have nothing left.  The people told Micah not to prophesy such unpleasant things because disgrace would not overtake them. But Micah replied that they should not say, “Is the Spirit of the Lord restricted? Are these works of judgment His doings? Do not His words do good to him who walks uprightly?”

By their sins, His people had become like an enemy of Jehovah—robbing the peaceful of their clothes and driving women and children out of their houses. They should arise and depart into exile, for the land they had polluted would destroy them. Any false prophet who advocated wine and strong drink would be quickly accepted by this people.

THE PROMISE OF RESTORATION (2:12, 13)

After the judgment, God would gather the remnant of Israel back from exile. A breaker (the Lord) would break down anything that would hinder their restoration.

DENUNCIATION OF RULERS, FALSE PROPHETS, AND PRIESTS (Chap. 3)

3:1–12  The rulers of the house of Israel are condemned for their injustice, unrighteousness, and covetousness. They treated the poor most cruelly. They hated good and loved evil. Instead of being shepherds of the sheep, as rulers are meant to be, these politicians were wolves, turning the sheep into meat for the pot and flesh for the caldron. They were the opposite of David, a literal shepherd who came to shepherd a nation (1 Sam. 17:15; 2 Sam. 5:2, 7:7). When their calamity comes, God will not hear their cries for help.  The false prophets would chant “Peace” to those who paid them well and predict war to those who would not pay. Therefore God would withhold from them the knowledge of His will. They would receive no answer from God.  In contrast, Micah was empowered by the Spirit of the Lord to declare God’s message to Israel and Judah (Jacob). The mercenary rulers, priests, and prophets thought that they were safe, but Micah announced that Jerusalem would be reduced to heaps of rubble.

THE GLORY OF CHRIST’S MILLENNIAL REIGN (Chap. 4)

1–8 The first eight verses speak of the blessings of Christ’s Millennial Reign. Jerusalem will be exalted, Gentiles nations will come there to learn about the Lord, and He will rule over all nations. Worldwide disarmament is vividly and concretely portrayed in the famous words: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Peace and security will prevail and the Lord will be acknowledged by all His people.  Verse 5 contrasts the idolatry that was practiced in Micah’s day with the pure worship that will prevail in the Millennial Kingdom. The people who were crippled by captivity will be restored to the land, and the Lord will reign as King over them. The first or former dominion (v. 8) means the highest government on earth, the reign of the Messiah King.

9–13 In the meantime, Judah must go into captivity to Babylon. Also, before the restoration, the Lord will gather the Gentile nations together and judge them; Israel will be His instrument to punish them, and their wealth shall be devoted to the Lord of the whole earth.

THE PROMISE OF THE MESSIAH’S COMING (Chap. 5)

1-15  Verse 1 seems to describe the status of the nation at the time that Micah was writing. Israel, here meaning Judah, is told to prepare for a siege by the Babylonians, who will treat the king insolently and rudely. This may refer to Sennacherib’s taunting Hezekiah or Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliating Zedekiah.

Verse 2 looks forward to the birth of the One who was to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. These words point to the Messiah’s eternity, and therefore His deity. Since there were two Bethlehems in the Holy Land, Micah specifies Bethlehem Ephrathah, six miles south of Jerusalem. This verse is intended as a contrast to verse 1. Although Israel’s contemporary situation might be discouraging, yet all would be changed when the Messiah came.

Starting in verse 3, three stages in the history of Israel are described:

(1) Because of its rejection of the Lord Jesus, it is given up. That describes its present condition in the Age of Grace. (2) Next, a time of travail awaits the nation, that is, the 70th Week of Daniel. (3) After these pangs, Israel gives birth. This refers to the believing remnant out of the still unbelieving nation.  This remnant of Israel will be re-gathered to the land, and Christ will rule over His people.

Christ’s care for Israel and His worldwide dominion are set forth. When the future Assyrian army strikes Jerusalem, the Messiah will raise up enough capable leaders to drive them back. The expression “seven shepherds and eight princely men” should not be taken to mean there would literally be only fifteen leaders raised up to withstand “the Assyrian.” When one number is followed by the next highest number in a poetic framework, the meaning is that there is an adequate or complete number of whatever occurs in the context.  Then Israel will be a channel of blessing to all. The nation will be as invincible as a lion—well able to crush God’s adversaries.  In that day, Israel will have been purified. It will no longer trust in horses and chariots or fortified cities. Sorcerers and soothsayers will be abolished. Carved images and sacred pillars—pagan shrines—will be destroyed. Enemy nations will be punished with God’s vengeance.

ISRAEL ON TRIAL (Chap. 6)

6:1–16  The mountains are called to serve as judges while the Lord (the Prosecutor) states His case against Israel (the defendant). He rehearses His kindness to them—delivering them from Egypt and preventing Balak and Balaam from cursing them.  What does the Most High seek in return for this? Not extravagant animal sacrifices! Certainly not human sacrifices! But justice, and mercy, and humility. Verse 8 describes what God requires; to obey this a person must have divine life. An unconverted person is totally incapable of producing this kind of righteousness.

The Lord’s voice cries to the city, recounting its sins as the cause of its calamity. The inhabitants used false weights and measures, they practiced violence, and they spoke lies.  Sin brings its own destruction, and the sins of the violent rich people would bring sickness, desolation, hunger, dissatisfaction, and frustration. They would not be permitted to enjoy the things they had obtained through dishonesty. The statutes of Omri (v. 16) may well refer to the idolatry which Omri encouraged (1 Kings 16:25-26).

THE NATION BEWAILS ITS SAD STATE (7:1–10)

7:1-10  Micah here takes his place with the nation and intercedes to God. The city has been stripped of men who are faithful and upright; violence and murder abound. The sad situation is compared with gleaning vintage grapes and finding no cluster to eat.  The rulers and judges ask for bribes; their punishment is near. None can be depended on. Friends, neighbors, even relatives betray one another.  Only the Lord can be trusted. The faithful remnant of the nation warn their enemy not to rejoice much over them. The calamity is a result of the people’s sins, but the Lord will yet restore His own, to the dismay of their enemies.

 

FUTURE BLESSING FOR ISRAEL (7:11–20)

11–20 Next Jerusalem is addressed. Her walls would be built again and her boundaries greatly extended. The exiles would return from the lands of their captivity, and the heathen world would be punished for its wickedness.  The desolation of the land probably refers to the results of the judgment of the Gentiles for the fruit of their deeds. This takes place just before the promised restoration.  Verse 14 is a prayer addressed to the Lord, asking for food and shepherd care. The Lord assures His people that He will do such wonderful things for them that the Gentile nations will be ashamed and will bow low before Him.  Micah closes his prophecy with a song of praise to God, extolling His mercy, forgiveness, compassion, faithfulness, and steadfast love.