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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
"Micah" is a shortened form for "Micaiah," which means "Who is like YHWH?" He came from Moresheth, a small town south west of Jerusalem. This was probably the same as Moresheth-gath (1.14), in which case it must have been fairly close to the Philistine town of Gath, of which the exact location is uncertain. Moresheth-gath was also about six miles north-east of Lachish, the second largest city in Judah, which was on the Shephelah (lower hills leading down to the Coastal Plain).
1.1 ‘The word of YHWH that came to Micah the Morashtite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.’
Micah came to the people of Judah with ‘the word (dbr) of YHWH’, a word which dealt with the situations of both Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah. The fact that his father’s name is not given, and that he came from a smallish town, may suggest that he came of common stock. While Isaiah was influencing the nobility, Micah was appealing to the common people. The destruction of his own home town by the Assyrians around the time that they captured Lachish must have been a great blow to him.
He prophesied during the reigns of Jotham (c.740-732 BC), Ahaz (c.732-715 BC), and Hezekiah (c.715-687/6 BC), kings of Judah. This indicates that he was a late eighth-century contemporary of Isaiah, who also prophesied around the same time in Judah (compare Isaiah 1.1). Amos and Hosea were similarly prophesying in the northern kingdom of Israel (see Amos 1.1; Hosea 1.1). These were initially times of economic wellbeing following the long and prosperous reign of Uzziah (Azariah), but with the looming presence of Assyria, danger threatened and eventually arrived, especially in the first instance for Israel.
During the time of Jotham (although not affecting Judah) Assyria, under Tiglath Pileser III (Pulu), coming from the north over the Euphrates in undreamt of power, captured some of Israel’s northern lands and incorporated them into the Assyrian empire, taking many Israelites into exile, and subjecting Israel to heavy tribute. Israel had meanwhile descended into a state of spiritual decadence and partial anarchy. Both economic and religious conditions were rapidly deteriorating.
We can understand how this new situation must have affected the thinking of men of God at the time. Here was an indication of God’s displeasure with His people. Things had never got quite as bad as this before.
When Israel, along with the Philistines and the countries north of Israel, including Syria, rebelled against Assyrian rule and withheld tribute, they sought to form an alliance in order to deal with the threat. This they invited first Jotham (who conveniently died), and then Ahaz to join. On the new king Ahaz refusing to do so preparations were made by Syria and Israel to bring him into submission and replace him as king. At this point Isaiah tried to persuade Ahaz to trust in YHWH and ignore everyone else, assuring him that the plot would come to nothing (Isaiah 7). Howevr, Ahaz chose rather to submit to the king of Assyria, against the pleadings of Isaiah, and pay the necessary tribute by using the gold in the Temple in order to obtain his protection, which was duly forthcoming. Ahaz seemingly had little interest in Yahwism and appears to have encouraged a resurgence of native religions. This naturally resulted in less notice being paid to covenant law. Society in general became more corrupt. Micah was partly inveighing against this.
Israel was only at that point saved from final destruction when Hoshea staged a coup and made peace with Assyria, paying very heavy tribute, but averting further disaster. Israel’s one time prosperity was on the point of collapse. But inevitably rebellion again raised its head, for the tribute was ruinous and national pride was hurt, and this time Shalmaneser V who had succeeded Tiglath Pileser III, held nothing back. He first destroyed the Philistines, and then moved against Israel and, although he died, eventually his son Sargon II captured Samaria. This was in 722 BC. Once this had been accomplished Sargon attacked Syria and besieged Damascus which was also destroyed. At this time large numbers of Israelites were deported and settled in countries beyond the Euphrates which were under Assyrian control. Judah were unaffected because they remained firm in their allegiance although they would no doubt have Assyrian troops stationed on their soil. They thus continued to maintain a certain level of prosperity.
But paying tribute also involved accepting Assyrian gods into the Temple so that they could be given due honour, and Ahaz seems to have actually encouraged this and also to have allowed idolatry to run wild. He had seemingly little concern for YHWH (see Isaiah 7) or for His laws. People not only worshipped in the heretical high places, but also worshipped in every high hill, and under every green tree, following every pagan practise. Ahaz even sacrificed his son to Moloch (Melech). The hold of Yahwism was being weakened, even though much of the worship was probably syncretistic. It was not difficult to align Baal (lord) with YHWH, to YHWH’s detriment.
Meanwhile the covenant law was losing its hold, morals were deteriorating, and the wealthy were beginning to misuse their situations to the detriment of the poor, while justice itself was becoming corrupted. The moral state of Judah was thus in jeopardy. The priests were also becoming corrupted, and prophets were using their positions in order to prophesy good things in return for the appropriate bribe. So religious life and standards were also rapidly deteriorating. These were situations that Micah came to address.
When Hezekiah came to the throne he began a religious reformation. Yahwism once again came into the ascendancy, while the teaching of Isaiah, supported by Micah, was raising hopes of the coming of the future Davidic king (the Messiah). Widespread idolatrous practises were stamped down on, and no doubt the moral situation improved. Even the more orthodox but heretical high places, which had been in place since the death of Solomon, were eventually removed, and the Temple purified. Attempts were also made to encourage those who remained in northern Israel to join in worshipping YHWH (2 Chronicles 30.1-12). But nothing could be done for the time being about the Assyrian gods safely ensconced in the Temple. To have removed them would have been an act of rebellion against Assyria.
So for a while Hezekiah remained submissive to Assyria, but when Assyrian attention was taken up elsewhere, he appears from Assyrian records to have considered joining in an alliance which was being fostered by the Philistines, with encouragement from Egypt. This was in the early years of his reign. Fortunately for Judah’s sake this did not for some reason come into fruition and they therefore escaped the wrath of Sargon II which was meted out on Philistia around 811 BC.
But on the death of Sargon II in 705 BC it was only a matter of time before Hezekiah withheld tribute. In alliance with the Philistines and encouraged by Egypt, their hope was probably that the new king would be too busy establishing himself to bother about far flung tributaries, especially in view of the ‘might’ of the new Egypt. No doubt at this stage the idolatrous images were also removed from the Temple. But the new king of Assyria, Sennacherib, arrived in order to stamp out the rebellion and Hezekiah appears eventually to have submitted paying heavy tribute (2 Kings 18.14-16). The result was that many Judeans would meanwhile have been taken into exile.
However, under circumstances that we do not know, it may even have been after a number of years, Sennacherib was dissatisfied with the situation and determined to deal with Hezekiah once and for all. He slowly subjugated the cities of Judah (‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took’) and that included Lachish, Judah’s second city. Pictures of the capture of Lachish have been found on Assyrian inscriptions, and during this period many Judeans would again have been carried off into exile. It was standard Assyrian practise. But while some Assyrian troops do appear to have hemmed in Jerusalem something happened which prevented its capture, and Jerusalem was never taken, as in fact Isaiah had promised. It seemed like a miracle. At this stage an indecisive battle with Egyptian forces, together with what is described as the remarkable destruction of Assyrian soldiers by the angel of YHWH (2 Kings 19.35), and urgent news from Assyria (2 Kings 19.7), caused Sennacherib to return home to Assyria. Hezekiah died before later repercussions could follow.
This is the brief background to the days of Jotham Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The Book of Micah may be seen as dividing up into three main sections:
YHWH Declares His Verdict On Samaria and Jerusalem (1.1-7).
The chapter opens with a declaration of YHWH’s sovereign power as Creator, and of His interest in the affairs of Judah and Israel, which results in a proclamation of His judgment on Samaria and Jerusalem..
Like Isaiah (see Isaiah 1.2), although with a different slant, Micah calls on the whole earth and its peoples to witness the fact that YHWH is about to act from His holy Temple in Heaven. He is about to come down and tread on the high places of the earth. He will present His witness against all peoples, and especially against His own people of Israel and Judah. Thus He is seen as sovereign over all.
This picture is expressed in language regularly used by conquering kings of the time to describe their own inexorable advance and supremacy. The mountains are unable to prevent His advance, the valleys cannot hinder Him. They will simply melt and divide before His advance. They will melt as wax before the fire. He will advance like an overflowing current, irresistible and unpreventable as a waterfall over a precipice.
And the main reason for His approach in such overwhelming power is because of the failures and disobedience of His people. It is because of the overstepping of the mark of Jacob, it is because of the sins of the house of Israel.
But the question may be asked, what is the transgression of Jacob? And the answer comes back, it is the behaviour and condition of Samaria. It is their idolatry, and rebellion, and their allowing the syncretistic high places which condemn them, together with the sinful ways of the aristocrats, judges, priest, and prophets.
And the next question is, ‘what are the high places of Judah?’ The Septuagint alters the word for high places to sins, and in that case the reply is similar to that in respect of Samaria.
But the alteration to the text is not necessary. What Micah is meaning is that people are asking, ‘What then is there in Judah that are the equivalent of such high places?’ That is of debased and unacceptable places of worship. And his reply is that Jerusalem itself is the equivalent of those high places. That city, which should have been the holy city, is itself debased and unacceptable. In respect of religious matters Judah is far more culpable than Samaria for they have the Temple of YHWH in their midst which they have debased. For they have altars to Assyria in their Temple, and other religious symbols which are distorting their worship (e.g. Nechushtan). They are thus worse than the high places of Samaria. And they serve to demonstrate what Jerusalem really is. They reveal the heart of Jerusalem. They occasion the anger of YHWH, for greater privilege begets greater responsibility. Jerusalem itself is not right with its God.
It was not just that these altars and idols were there it was that they were encouraged and favoured. This may well have been said before the reforms of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.4). But it could equally have been said afterwards because the altar and images of Assyria were still in the Temple. So it is these sins and failures that have stirred up the anger of YHWH causing Him to approach His people like a belligerent conqueror.
It is a reminder to us that God does not treat our sins lightly. We may have our excuses for things that displease Him, and for our little ‘idols’ ,just as Judah had. We may even joke about them. But we need to learn that God may not be as satisfied with them as we are.
The consequence of His displeasure will be that Samaria will be turned into a heap. The ancients were familiar with what happened to cities that were destroyed and then deserted. The sand swept over them until all that could be seen of them was a heap out in the open country (compare Joshua 8.28), on which among other things vines would be grown. Thus it is an indication that like Jericho in the time of Joshua, Samaria was to be totally destroyed and deserted.
‘And I will pour down its stones into the valley.’ Most cities were in fact built on the ruins of past cities, because usually the fact that the city had been there indicated the presence of a large spring, which was essential to a city’s welfare. Thus they were built on mounds made up of ruins. We call them Tels. The idea is that some of the stones which comprised the city walls and houses would be hurled to the bottom of the mound as the city was in process of being systematically destroyed. Such a situation was revealed by findings at Jericho. But of course it could be countlessly repeated at many sites.
‘And I will uncover its foundations.’ So great would be the devastation of the city that even its foundation would be uncovered. The whole picture is of devastating judgment. It may be argued that this was not actually fulfilled, for when Samaria was taken it was not so utterly destroyed, (although destruction on an invasion is always relative), but this is intended to be a picture of its ‘devotion to God’. The idea is that it will have been wholly consecrated to God as His to do what He liked with. In the event He showed mercy.
Not only the city of Samaria and its Temple but also their contents would be devastated. The graven images of her gods would be shattered, Her merchandise burned, her idols lying desolate, unable to help themselves. Note the vivid imagery, the shattered gods, the helpless idols, proof that they were but men’s vanities.
The word ‘hires’ refers to merchandise in Isaiah 23.18 and included food and clothing. Here it clearly parallels graven images and idols. Clearly it refers to something purchased for worship purposes, possibly the garments that decorated the images and idols. There is a play on the fact that these ‘hires’ have been bought with the hire of cultic prostitutes. But they will be burned with fire, and thereby sanctified to God (compare Joshua 6.24).
Some of these graven images and idols were coated or made from silver and gold gained by cultic prostitution, and now they would return to being a harlot’s fees. The whole picture is one of derision and contempt. The point may be that the soldiers will take the gold and silver as trophies, sell them, and use the proceeds on prostitutes. Such will be the end of these wonderful images and idols.
Note that as yet He does not intend to visit Jerusalem itself with judgment
The Prophet Responds To God’s Words With Grief As He Recognises That YHWH Is Right And That Even Judah and Jerusalem Are Being Affected.
The situation now moves on to consider the position of Judah and Jerusalem. In a prophetic acting out of the future Micah walks around dressed like a prisoner, weeping and mourning because of what is coming on Judah, and will even reach to the gates of Jerusalem. What is in mind here are the approaching armies of Sennacherib which have defeated an Egyptian army sent against them, have subjugated Philistia, and are now turning their attention on Judah.
Micah responds to God’s judgment by declaring his own grief at the situation of Jerusalem. He intends to throw off his outer garments, and possibly his footwear, (compare 2 Samuel 15.30; Isaiah 20.2; 22.12; Jeremiah 25.34) as an indication of his grief, and to walk around like a prisoner, wailing like a jackal and lamenting like an ostrich (or ‘screech owl’). These last were famous for their howling and sounds like those in mourning (compare Job 30.29).
And the reason for his grief is that he recognises that Samaria’s wounds are incurable (compare Isaiah 1.5-6), and the future that awaits them, and even more devastatingly that this situation has even affected Judah. It has reached to the very gates of Jerusalem.
Whether this was foreboding after he saw what happened to Samaria, or due to the fact that the enemy (Sennacherib) was actually approaching Jerusalem, is difficult to say definitely.
A Lament For The Cities of Judah (1.10-16).
These cities lay in the path of Sennacherib as he advanced on Jerusalem after defeating the Egyptian army, and subjugating Philistia, and they illuminate something of the resulting situation.
We will first present the verses, which are in typical Hebrew poetic form as much prophecy was, as a whole so as to retain the beauty and sadness of them. And then we will consider them one by one.
It will be noted that ten selected cities are noted, indicating the completeness of the disaster. They are clearly selected on the basis of the meaning of their names. Lists of ten regularly indicated a total picture (compare Genesis 5; 11). They are divided into five and five (note verse 12 and compare verse 9). Five is the number of covenant, and these are God’s covenant people. But the division may also indicate different regions.
‘Tell it not in Gath.’ Compare 2 Samuel 1.20. The misery of Judah is to be such that it is not to be told in Gath lest the people of Gath mock them over their situation. Gath was a Philistine city. So the point is that no one should take news to Gath, or arrive there as though in mourning. Their misery would be best kept to themselves. Gath had their own troubles. They also were the subject of the invasion. It may also include the thought that they would be in such shock that they would be unable to weep. When reading of the deliverance of Jerusalem itself we often overlook the awful devastation that has been previously wrought on Judah.
The next cities in line of advance are now described.
Beth-le-Aphrah means ‘house of dust’ and there is a deliberate play on words. Rolling in the dust (‘wallowing in ashes’) was a typical way of expressing grief (Jeremiah 6.26 Ezekiel 27.30).
Shaphir means ‘beautiful. But there will be no beauty in the way in which they are carried off into captivity. Their beautiful city has become a nightmare.
Zaanan means ‘one who goes out’ (i.e. to face the enemy). But these people do not go out to face the enemy. This may indicate that they remained in their town, refusing the call to arms, and surrendered immediately in return for more merciful treatment. Resistance melted at the sight of the Assyrian armies. There are always some who will not stand up bravely for what is right.
Beth-ezel mean ‘house by the side of another.’ The idea is of one who gives mutual assistance. But Zaanan has surrendered and not come out to battle. So Beth-ezel’s anticipated friends have failed her, and she herself cannot therefore ‘stand her ground’ and be a stay to Hezekiah’s attempts at resistance. She cannot help the daughter of Zion. She can only dissolve into weeping. She is useless.
Alternately it could be rendered, ‘The wailing of Beth-ezel will take its stopping away from you,’ i.e., will not allow you the stopping of the lamentation.
Maroth means ‘bitterness.’ Her inhabitants wait anxiously for good. Perhaps there were hopes of another Egyptian army. Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking. But all they would enjoy is bitterness. And the reason for this is that YHWH has deserted Judah because of her disobedience, and is allowing her to suffer right up to the gates of Jerusalem (compare verse 3, ‘the Lord will come down’ in judgment, and verse 9).
Lachish means ‘horses’. The city was south west of Jerusalem in the Shephelah, and was the second largest in Judah. It could be expected to hold out against the Assyrians for an appreciable time. She was clearly a chariot city (being in the lowlands chariots were usable there). They are now being called on to prove themselves, or sarcastically to provide a quick means of escape for the nobles. She has been proud of her self-sufficiency. Let her now demonstrate her worth.
We do not know in what way she had been the beginning of sin to Zion. Being on the trade routes she may have been receptive to foreign ideas which she had passed on to Jerusalem. And she is specifically linked with the transgressions of Israel. This is confirmed by the reference to her having shared in the sins of the northern kingdom. She too had had her own Temple and a syncretistic religion, and in fact the remains of a Temple have been found on the site of Lachish. And their turning away from God and His covenant had in some way affected the daughter of Zion, Jerusalem and its people.
Lachish does seem to have defended itself bravely. But even mighty Lachish had to yield eventually, and her defeat was vividly depicted in inscriptions in Assyria celebrating Sennacherib’s triumphs (an important witness to the fact that Jerusalem was never taken). See 2 Kings 19.8. Assyria departed from Lachish once victory had been obtained, and moved on to the next victim waiting coweringly behind its walls.
Moresheth-gath was probably the birth place of Micah, Moresheth is similar in sound to the word which means ‘possession, dowry, gift’. But now the gift would be a parting one, because she was going into captivity. This must have been an especially bitter blow to Micah.
Achzib is very similar to the Hebrew word for ‘lie, deceive’. She will prove a deceitful thing to the kings of Israel. Note the loose way in which Micah can equate Judah with the name Israel. The writing prophets never really accepted the division of Israel into two. They saw them as all God’s people, and would sometimes use the names interchangeably. ‘The kings of Israel’ might indicate the petty kings of cities who were organising the resistance.
But Achzib will prove unreliable, a deceitful thing. She will surrender to Sennacherib and fight her own people. Compare Zaanan above. Judah were divided as to whether to resist or yield. Why should they suffer to defend a king hidden in his mountain fastness?
Mareshah is similar to the word meaning ‘possession’. But the possessor is now about to become the possessed, and her inhabitants will flee with what wealth they can carry for refuge in the cave of Adullam. This is all that remains of the ‘glory of Israel’. For this use of the word ‘glory’ as signifying prosperity compare Isaiah 17.1-3.
The whole picture is one of defeat and misery. And so the daughter of Zion, waiting in her mountain stronghold for when it is her turn, is called on to make herself bald and cut off her hair, an extreme form of registering despair. And she it to do it for the sake of her pampered children who are now pampered no more. She is to make herself bald as an expression of having lost everything. The hair was seen as indicating life and vitality. But now all life and vitality will have left her because her children have been taken into captivity.
The picture behind these verses is a depressing one. The cruel soldiers of Assyria remorselessly advancing, the cities take one by one after bitter but hopeless resistance, with large numbers put in chains, trudging barefoot and only half clothed in long weary lines, mile after mile, urged on by the whips of their captors, with people dying by the wayside, others seeking to assist their aged relatives lest they too be left to die, and with little to look forward to. These were the exiles of Judah long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Eventually, however, those who survived would be resettled in other lands so that they could labour and pay taxes, and form a community, or would be lost among the nations.
And all this has been brought on them because they had forgotten God’s covenant and had turned to idolatry and sin. Something of that sin will now be described in the following verses.
The Sins Which Have Brought Judah’s Calamity On It (2.1-11).
These prophecies would have been spoken well before the scenes previously depicted, which from the point of view of this chapter are still in the future. They are a detailed explanation as to why YHWH will punish His people.
God’s woe is described on those who spend their time while in bed on working out ways to grow rich by false means, and then putting it into practise when they get up. They sin night and day. It is a way of life with them. We are reminded of those of whom it was said that ‘the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually’ (Genesis 6.5). The night time is a time for planning evil. The day time is a time for practising it.
They are mainly the wealthy people. (‘how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ - Luke 18.24). They covet their neighbour’s fields and find means of seizing them by using underhand methods, political influence or loopholes in the law. They gain possession of their houses, and dispossess the inhabitants. They oppress ‘smaller’ men and their families, and try to take over their heritage. We can compare the same men spoken of by Isaiah in a similar way, ‘Woe to those who join house to house, who lay field to field, until there is no room and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land’ (Isaiah 5.8)
That this was possible given the teaching of the Law about the preservation of a man’s heritage (all land was to return to its original owner after fifty years and had to be available for redemption - Leviticus 25.10) just emphasises how far the people as a whole had strayed from God’s covenant. It had simply been put aside, the hope being that as long as the ritual was maintained at a certain level God would be satisfied. What they had overlooked was that it was in fact their practical behaviour that was of most importance to God. In God’s Law a man’s heritage was sacred.
YHWH now warns them that because of their behaviour He will devise a catastrophe against them (either the family of Jacob or the ‘family’ of rich men) that they will not be able to avoid. It will be like a heavy yoke from which they will be unable to remove their necks, nor will they be able to walk with their nose in the air, because it will be a catastrophic time.
It is a reminder to us that if we do not obey His word, and if we neglect the needy, then God will allow circumstances to overtake us to our detriment as well.
Outsiders will now jeer at them in a proverb song, ‘and lament with a lamenting lamentation’, moaning pretentiously and saying sarcastically with a mocking voice, ‘We are utterly ruined.’ The picture is one of total derision. And this will be because God will have altered the situation that they have manufactured. He will do it by removing the land from the wealthy, by their being transported, and then dividing it up among the rebellious, that is the invading enemy.
Whether the last three lines are part of the taunt or the reply of the once rich men makes little difference. These rich men who had ignored the portions that God had divided amongst His people, now grumbled because they felt that their portions had been taken from them. And worst of all, He gives it to the enemy. The fullness of the judgment that has come on them because of their greed is made clear.
Note the change of tense which makes the words very personal. Each grumbler is speaking about his own loss.
And the result will be that none of the leadership will be left. None will be available to cast the lot in the assembly of YHWH. This may have in mind such things as the use of Urim and Thummim by the Priest, the casting of lots over the goats on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.8), and possibly have in mind the method of dividing up the land in view of the fact that the original owners and their families were no longer of the land, in the same way as it had been done originally (Numbers 26.55). The use of the lot under YHWH’s guidance was a common way of coming to such decisions in Israel. It was probably used on such occasions as Joshua 7.16-18; Judges 20.18; 2 Samuel 2.1; etc.
Micah now takes up a grievance against the cult prophets. In their prophecies they prophesy against prophesying, and will not prophesy against these evils, and the result will be that there will be no prophesying to the people about these things and the people will still bear their reproach. Their reproaches will not depart as a result of repentance but will remain. He may have in mind especially that this suggestion not to prophesy was aimed at him.
He then takes up the question as coming from ‘the house of Jacob’ as to whether he is limiting the Spirit of YHWH and putting a straitjacket on Him by suggesting that He will behave in this way. Is YHWH so filled with threats? Is He so restricted? YHWH’s reply is simple, let them consider the good that His words do to those who walk uprightly in accordance with His covenant. (Micah never actually mentions the covenant. But it constantly lies behind what he says). It is a hint to them to consider whether they are walking uprightly.
There is no indication in his words as to whether the words are spoken to Israel or Judah. Either (or both) could be described as ‘the house of Jacob’. The probability must be that it is Judah.
YHWH continues by pointing out, however, that many do not walk uprightly. They behave like enemy soldiers might be expected to behave. When men are passing through in peace as travellers, men who would expect in God’s land to travel in security, they find themselves waylayed and their robbers seize their rich robes, leaving them in their undertunics. Whether this also was the rich men’s doing, or whether it was the equivalent action of the greedy poor we are not told. But again the point is that they are not doing God’s will.
And they even find means of buying out the houses of women from under them, possibly once their husbands have died, and then cast them out onto the streets. And from the young children they permanently take the possessions that God had guaranteed to them, or their godly heritage. ‘Glory’ often means possessions and wealth (compare Isaiah 17.3). Alternately it may indicate that these young children as a result of their mistreatment go to the bad.
We can compare here the words of Amos 8.5-6, where such men declared, ‘when will the new moon be gone (what a nuisance sabbaths were) that we may sell corn, and the sabbath that we might set forth wheat, making the measure small and price great, and dealing falsely with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sell the refuse of the wheat’.
So Micah calls on those who are performing such wickedness to arise and depart. It is time the invading armies took them off. (It was regularly the rich and important who were the first to be deported). For God’s land is not their resting place, it is the resting place for the meek and lowly in heart. They are thus debarred from it because of their uncleanness, an uncleanness which is destructive to a grievous extent.
The idea of God’s land as being a place of rest for His obedient people is found in Exodus 33.14; Deuteronomy 3.20; 12.10; Psalm 95.11. Compare also Hebrews 3-4. It was the place of God’s rest.
Micah despaired of getting the people to listen. They were not interested in the truth. What they wanted was people who tickled their ears and fitted in with their lifestyles. So if a prophet offered them what they wanted, prophesying in a spirit of falsehood, then they would cleave to him and follow him. All he had to do was offer wine and strong drink and they would see him as their prophet. For they preferred false spirits to the true Spirit (2.7; 3.8).
It is probable that we are to see the spirit of falsehood as a genuine evil spirit, not just as tendency to falsehood. Compare the evil spirit from God that came on Saul (1 Samuel 18.10).
YHWH Will Gather The Remnant of Israel Like A Shepherd Gathers His Sheep And Leads Them Home (2.12-13).
As regularly happens on the prophets Micah now follows the bad news with good news. This was a common practise with Isaiah. For the prophets had a twofold purpose, to deal with the sins of the people, and to enable them to recognise that in spite of all their failure God would ensure their future. He would bring His people back to Himself.
While he has been warning the rich and the powerful of the captivity that awaited them, he also wanted to assure the people that that would not simply be the end. For God’s promises were sure. Many Israelites might disappear into the great beyond, but they are not to think that they are lost sight of by God.
For God intends one day to bring back many of those in exile, as a sheep gathers His flock, and there He will feed them and they will make a great noise because they are men. What He has done will not be hidden. These words need not have the Babylonian captivity in mind. Micah had watched even his own townsfolk taken into exile. He could not doubt that some of them would return under God’s gracious hand. The sheep of Bozrah were plentiful and well-favoured. Compare here Isaiah 40.11.
The picture is a triumphant one. Just as YHWH the great Escapist, had broken them out of Egypt and had gone up before them, so that they too were able to break out, He now enables them to break out of wherever they are settled, passing out through the gate, for nothing can hold Him in, and going with them out of the city. They will go forward with their King passing on before them, with YHWH at their head.
The picture is the typically Isaianic one concerning God as the great Deliverer. See for example the constant movement from present sin to glorious future in Isaiah 1-5, and the constant references to God as bringing righteousness and salvation. And compare Isaiah 52.12.
Micah’s Indictment of Judah (3.1-8).
Micah inveighs first against the leadership of Judah, and then against the prophets who make people err for the sake of money, and the priests who teach for hire. We can compare Isaiah’s similar indictment in e.g. Isaiah 1.23; 3.1-4.
3.1 ‘And I said, “Hear, I pray you, you heads of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel: is it not for you to know justice?” ’
‘And I said.’ A loose opening phrase simply declaring ‘and this is another thing that I prophesied, although at another time’.
He calls on them to remember who they are. Are they not the heads of Jacob and the rulers of Israel, the very people of God? Should they not then be models of justice? Is that not why they have been put in their positions by God?
Largely in mind here are those who have been put in authority to maintain the justice and wellbeing of God’s people. Such a system of justice had originally been set up by Moses (Exodus 18.25-26) and applied to the situation in the land by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19.4-7). And there would be numerous local leaders who would be responsible for local justice, family heads who would act as the magistrates of the day.
3.2 “You who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones;”
But instead of being a friend of justice they loved the evil and hated the good. (Compare Isaiah 5.19-20; Amos 5.14-15). They took advantage of the system for their own benefit. It is as though because of their greedy ways they skinned people alive, and took the flesh from their bones. For they seek to strip them of everything. In modern parlance they bled them dry.
This is always the way in an affluent society. People become more and more greedy for possessions and for status and for ‘fun’. Instead of being full of gratitude to God, they indulge in sin and pleasure, and reject godliness. It is indeed strange how prosperity leads to sin. It is because men are no longer then driven to God in their need, and want rather to enjoy to the full what they have got. And of course because they are driven by the desires of the flesh.
3.3 “Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the cauldron.”
This is certainly not intended to be taken literally, although at times it may have occurred during sieges. It is continuing the hyperbole of the previous verse. To ‘eat the flesh’ and similar phrases regularly mean to harm or kill (Psalm 27.2 compare Psalms 14.4; 53.4). No doubt regular savage beatings did take place, but the picture here goes a little beyond that.. The remainder would have been the actions of cannibals, which they would certainly not actually have been. It is all rather a vivid description of viciousness and of a total lack of concern for people, and an instance of great wickedness. It is a revelation of man’s inhumanity to man.
3.4 ‘Then will they cry to YHWH, but he will not answer them; yes, he will hide his face from them at that time, according as they have wrought evil in their doings.’
And then having behaved in this way they turn to YHWH and expect Him to hear their prayer. Well, here is His answer. they will cry to Him but He will not answer them, He will instead at that time of need hide His face from them, in accordance with their evil behaviour, because in their actions they have wrought evil. He will treat them as they have treated others.
3.5-6 ‘Thus says YHWH concerning the prophets who make my people to err; who bite with their teeth, and cry, “Peace”, and whoever does not put (food) into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore it will be night to you, that you shall have no vision; and it will be dark to you, that you shall not divine; and the sun will go down on the prophets, and the day will be black over them.’
YHWH then turns to the cultic prophets who are leading the people astray with their teaching and their prophecies. If they are properly provided for they prophesy ‘peace’ for their benefactors, but if anyone does not provision them then they become belligerent and act as though they were at war with them.
But because of this instead of prophetic vision they will have night time. Instead of being able to discern the future they will be in darkness. There will be no more sunny days for them. Instead all their days will be black ones. Illumination will be no more.
These cult prophets, who when they were godly men could be of such help to the people, had unfortunately often run counter to the true prophets. On the good side were those who had supported Samuel (1 Samuel 10.5, 10-11 and Elisha (2 Kings 2.2, 5. 7, 15; 4.38-41; see also 1 Kings 18.4), but on the other side were those who constantly prophesied peace and wellbeing regardless of behaviour (2 Kings 22.6-13; Jeremiah 28.1-17; Ezekiel 13.1-23). They were not necessarily dishonest, simply over optimistic and unaware of the truth about YHWH, and in some cases mercenary. They prophesied ‘peace, peace, where there was no peace. They believed God’s promises about the Davidic house, and that He would watch over His people. What they failed to see was that sin changed the whole situation. And the further problem was that they had learned to recognise the kind of prophecies that would bring them financial benefit.
One of the differences between Micah and these peace prophets was Micah’s personal concern for the people. He constantly speaks of them as ‘my people’ either on his own behalf or on God’s (1.9; 2.4, 8, 9; 3.3, 5; 6.3, 5, 16), and he was concerned to speak by the Spirit of YHWH. These other prophets were more interested in their stomachs. They were also influenced by political pressure (2 Kings 22.13); immorality (Isaiah 28.7), and greed (Ezekiel 13.19), or were simply in a state of confusion because events had overtaken them and they did not know what to say (Jeremiah 14.14).
3.7 ‘And the seers will be put to shame, and the diviners confounded; yes, they will all cover their lips; for there is no answer from God.’
When people come to the seers and the diviners they will have nothing to say. They will rather have to cover their lips, because there will be no answer for them from God. The words envisage circumstances taking place (such as invasion) where people are desperately looking for answers which wee not simply platitudes. It is at that time that they will learn the true value of these prophets.
3.8 ‘But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of YHWH, and of judgment, and of might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.’
In contrast Micah will have answers for them. For he is not in darkness. He is full of power by the Spirit of YHWH, he is full of right judgment and of might, which is why he can declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.
Micah has no doubt that YHWH is with him. He knows that YHWH’s Spirit is empowering him. And he knows that the teaching that he brings is from YHWH. It is true spiritual judgment. Furthermore he knows that he brings it in the power of YHWH. And unlike the other prophets he does not utter platitudes and what people want to hear, he speaks of transgression and sin, precisely what they do not want to hear, and he does it because that is the burden of the Spirit Who is within him..
He Summarises The Situation In The Land And Declares What will Come Upon Them As A Result (3.9-12).
Micah now advises the corrupt leaders of their sins and of what is coming on them because of them. And yet he also comments on the fact that in spite of their behaviour, they actually claim to lean on YHWH and genuinely consider that nothing can happen to them because YHWH is among them. Well, he says, let them consider this fact, that because of what they are YHWH is intending to plough up Zion like a ploughed field, to turn Jerusalem into heaps, as He had done Samaria, and to make the mountain of YHWH’s house like the high places in the forests. This latter may mean that it will be ravaged like the high places had been ravaged by Hezekiah’s reforms, or that it will simply be seen as another false place of idolatry.
3.9 ‘Hear this, I pray you, you heads of the house of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice, and pervert all equity.’
3.10 ‘Those who build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.’
Instead of building up a pure and righteous Zion which would bring honour to YHWH, they are establishing Zion by violence and murder, and building up Jerusalem on total sinfulness. Thus somehow its filth needs to be washed away and its blood purged (Isaiah 4.4)
3.11 ‘The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they lean upon YHWH, and say, “Is not YHWH in the midst of us? No evil will come upon us.’
The leading judges make their judgments on the basis of bribes, the priest teach for wages rather than out of a desire to spread God’s word, and the prophets tell people whatever they want to hear, as long as they pay them well enough. And yet these same men profess to lean on YHWH, and then naively declare, ‘Is not YHWH in the midst of us?’ They are so sure that YHWH is among them that they cannot conceive that anything harmful could befall them. Such is people’s naive belief in God. They yet had to learn that God is not to be bought. He is there on behalf of the humble and contrite in spirit.
3.12 ‘Therefore will Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem will become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.’
And because of their sinfulness, and because of their false view, they will sadly at some time learn how wrong they are. YHWH might come among them, but it will be in order to turn Zion (the outer Jerusalem) into a ploughed field, and to turn the fortress of Jerusalem into ruined heaps. Jerusalem will be destroyed.
That God delayed doing this was probably due to Hezekiah’s loyalty, Isaiah’s prayers, and Micah’s intercession. It would be another hundred years before it came to fruition. But as Micah heard the news of the advancing armies of Assyria, it was not necessarily so unexpected, for he knew that YHWH’s protecting hand could no longer be guaranteed. He was not yet to know that God would yet have mercy and spare Jerusalem for another hundred years. Although we should note that it did come in the end.
Interestingly it was this prophecy of Micah that saved Jeremiah from worse treatment when he too prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, although a contemporary was martyred (Jeremiah 26.17-24).
‘And the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.’ This was the mount on which the Temple was built. But his warning here was that the Temple would be no safer than the ‘high places’ of a forest, those sacred shrines scattered throughout the hills of Judah, which would be desecrated by every invading army, as they mocked the gods of the land, and which were destroyed by Hezekiah. So even with its security on a mountain in the very centre of the city of Jerusalem, they must not think that the Temple was safe from the judgment of God. He could destroy it as easily as the high places had been destroyed by foreign soldiery and by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.4). Its inviolability was a myth.
However, In The End It Is YHWH’s Purpose To Establish His Temple Miraculously In A Place Where All Men Can Flow To It So As To Learn His Ways And The Whole Earth Will Eventually Enjoy Peace (4.1-4).
But Micah wants it to be recognised that he is not despising the Temple and immediately points out its glorious future, although in terms which make it clear that it will be a very different one from the Temple of Solomon. This Temple is to be exalted heavenwards and is to become something to which all peoples will flow, and from which they can receive the word of God. The idea of a similarly exalted Temple is expressed in Revelation where the Temple has been raised into Heaven itself and is accessed through the prayers of God’s people, with the Lamb as the eternal sacrifice (Revelation 5.6, 8; 8.3-4; 9.13; 11.19; 14.15, 17-18; 15.5-8; 16.1, 7). That is fulfilling the words of Micah given here. The concept of an actual Heaven that men and women could enter had not even been thought of, and would simply have been looked on as polytheistic. To the nations it was the gods who indwelt the heavens.
4.1-3 are repeated almost word for word (with slight variations) in Isaiah 2.2-4. As they were contemporaries it is impossible to determine their connection. One may have depended on the other, or both may have been referring to a well known previous prophecy. (Each position has been well defended, which basically means that no one knows).
4.1 ‘But in the latter days it will come about that the mountain of YHWH’s house will be established on the top of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills; and peoples will flow to it.’
Basically what Micah is saying is that it will be a heavenly Temple. It will rise far above all mountains and hills, and the people will flow upwards towards it. There is a deliberate indication of mystery here. ‘Flows’ usually take place downwards. But here the normal situation is reversed. God will draw the peoples to Himself (compare John 6.44). We can compare the heavenly Temple in Ezekiel which was situated on an unknown ‘very high mountain’ away from Jerusalem, and was never intended to be built. The only thing to be built was the altar in Jerusalem through which it could be accessed. It was the symbol that God was once again with His people.
Mountains and hills were looked on as having a kind of sacredness in the ancient world, which was why shrines (high places) were built on them and men thought that there people could better commune with God (compare Judges 11.38). In the mountain above where I once lived on Hong Kong Island there was precisely such a sacred grove to which people would go in order to burn joss sticks and seek the favour of the gods. It was totally open and unguarded and anyone could go there at any time. We went there often, although not to worship.
So the Temple which had been treated as one of the despised ‘high places’ fit only for destruction (3.12) would once again become predominant as a heavenly Temple where all nations could approach God without let or hindrance. And as such it would become the goal of the peoples. YHWH’s purposes would triumph over man’s perfidy.
This was why Jesus would later say, ‘the hour will come when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father --- the hour comes and now is when the true worshipper will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for such does the Father seek to worship Him. God is Spirit. And those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4.21-24). We too worship in the heavenly Temple as we enter through the way opened up for us by the blood of Jesus and through our great High Priest Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10.19-22).
4.2 ‘And many nations will go and say, “Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem,”
And the Temple would no longer be exclusive. It would be open to many nations. And they would say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob.’ The point is that the nations would recognise that the God of Israel was the only true God (as Jesus would later say ‘salvation is of the Jews’ - John 4.22). Indeed one of God’s aims for Israel was that they should be His chosen witnesses to the nations (Isaiah 43.10), a commission fulfilled by the Apostles and the early Jewish church because the Jews as such had failed to accomplish it satisfactorily. (We must not overlook, however, that they had previously outside Jerusalem among the nations laid a groundwork on which the early church could build. Paul always went to the synagogues first, as did the other Apostles).
That this Temple was in the end, as far as earth was concerned, the living temple of the Spirit consisting of Jesus and the true people of God comes out regularly in the New Testament (John 2.19, 21; 1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16-18; Ephesians 2.19-22; 1 Peter 2.5-6).
And through that Temple the people would learn the ways of YHWH, and would learn to walk in His paths. For out of Zion would go forth God’s Instruction, and His word would go forth from Jerusalem. This was amply fulfilled as the Apostles and the persecuted people of God spread out into the world taking with them the Gospel of Christ (Act 1-12). And it goes on today as we the Temple of the living God bear our witness in the world. For in one sense we are the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26).
4.3 “And he will judge between many peoples, and will decide concerning strong nations afar off: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning–hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.”
And the end promise is that as a result of the success of God’s activity among all peoples there would be peace among the nations. God Himself will reign over ‘many peoples’ and will exercise His authority among ‘strong nations afar off’, and in the end there will be total peace. War will be no more.
Today we see that God’s rule is exercised over many peoples, among Christians around the world, and that between them is peace, as their love reaches out towards one another (we must not judge Christianity’s success in this direction simply because of one nation’s bickerings and divisions). But, of course, the final fulfilment of this promise awaits the final everlasting Kingdom of God on the new earth when a new Heaven and a new earth is in place in which dwells righteousness (Isaiah 11.1-9; 65.17-25; 2 Peter 3.13).
4.4 “But they will sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none will make them afraid: for the mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken it.”
And in that day Israel’s ideal will be fulfilled with all being free and independent, and every man sitting under his own vine and his own fig tree. And in that day none will make them afraid, for it will be in a world at perfect peace. And all this will come about because the mouth of YHWH has spoken it.
We do not of course have to interpret this too literally. It does not mean that we will all have to become agriculturalists. It is rather a picture of man’s ideal world in terms of how it would have been seen in those days. Compare here 1 Kings 4.25; 2 Kings 18.31 (it was even the ideal expressed by the Assyrians. Possibly they had learned of Micah’s prophecy); Zechariah 3.10.
Meanwhile Israel Are To Ensure That Just As Each Nation Walks In The Way Of Its God, So They Walk In The Name Of YHWH Their God Unceasingly (4.5).
Micah recognises that if the glorious future just described is to come about it is vital that God’s people continue faithful to YHWH. And so he firmly now says to his people, and on behalf of his people, that they will be faithful to YHWH.
4.5 “For all the peoples walk every one in the name of his god; and we will walk in the name of YHWH our God for ever and ever.”
Drawing a comparison with the nations who faithfully follow their own gods, and using them as an example, he now calls on Israel to do the same, and walk in the Name of YHWH their God for ever. Let not those who serve the Living God fail to walk in His Name for ever. There is, however, a distinction in the fact that the gods of the nations can do nothing to help the people in their walk. But YHWH our God is the One Who is there to assist us in our walk and to give His strength and enabling. Compare Isaiah 40.11, 31; 43.2. Standards had undoubtedly slipped in Jerusalem as we have seen, but the prophet is certain that in the end God’s people will be faithful to Him, and by these words he is urging them to be so, and to rely in His strength in doing so.
He Again Turns His Thoughts Towards ‘That Day’, That Day When God Will Acts To Restore His People (4.6-8).
In mind here now is not the final day spoken of in verses 3-4, but the days of restoration which will precede it. Before final blessing there must be restoration.
4.6-7 “In that day,” says YHWH, “will I assemble that which is lame, and I will gather that which is driven away, and that which I have afflicted, and I will make that which was lame a remnant, and that which was cast far off a strong nation: and YHWH will reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth even for ever.”
Micah’s thoughts now again turn to the future and he looks for God’s restorative work on a devastated people. He sees around him, among the arrogant leaders, and the mercenary prophets and priests, many who are humble seekers after God, and many who are as sheep without a shepherd (not mentioned here but a regular Old Testament picture, and see verse 8, and 2.12), and he sees the thousands of Judah who have been carried off into exile as their cities have been destroyed (1.10-16), and he foresees YHWH as acting to restore them.
In that day it is the lame (the weak and helpless and lowly), and those who have been driven away (the helpless exiles), and those whom He has afflicted (those who have suffered silently under the current situation), who will be restored. This is especially telling as the lame were originally excluded from the actual precincts of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 21.18). Indeed it is the lame (the weak and lowly and rejected) who will be fashioned into a remnant, and it is the exiles who will be fashioned into a strong nation, and it is these who will enter under the Kingly Rule of God, and will enjoy His rule over them in Mount Zion from now on and for ever.
We may see of these words a threefold fulfilment:
‘In Mount Zion.’ The New Testament makes clear that Jerusalem and Mount Zion are finally to be seen in heavenly terms. Compare Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22-23; 1 Peter 2.6; Revelation 14.1; Romans 11.26). This ties in with the mountain of the house of YHWH which has been raised above the mountains and hills in 4.1. Micah was expressing it in the terms of his day.
The idea of the reign of YHWH is a regular Old Testament conception. It is found in Psalm 22.27-28; 103.19; and in the enthronement Psalms 93.1; 95.3; 97.1; 99.1, and is regularly assumed. It had been established over Israel after the conquest, but rejected (Deuteronomy 33.5; 1 Samuel 8.7). Now it was to be full manifested.
4.8 “And you, O tower of the flock, the hill of the daughter of Zion, to you will it come, yes, the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
He concludes the vision with an assurance to the holy mountain that has been set above the mountains and hills (4.1), that it will be the source of God’s blessing to His people. It is to be the stronghold of God’s flock, the tower from which YHWH watches over His sheep (compare 2 Chronicles 26.10). It is to be the true hill of God’s people (the daughters of Zion). And to it would come the former dominion that had once been enjoyed under David, but now in even greater measure. It would be the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem promised, for example, in Psalm 2.
But this does not require the restoration of old Israel. The old Israel was cut off as a result of rejecting its Messiah, something finally evidenced by the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather a genuine new Israel has arisen, founded on Jesus Christ as His new ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16.18), established on the Apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2.20), initially comprising large numbers of Jews who responded to their Messiah, initially in Jerusalem but then ‘worldwide’, and then incorporating Gentile ‘proselytes’ (Exodus 12.48) who became one with the new Israel (Galatians 6.16; Romans 11.17-28; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.5-9; 1 Peter 1.1; James 1.1). These are the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem over which God rule worldwide. (In New Testament language the church (congregation) of the Messiah Jesus are the continuation of the church (congregation) of Israel founded at Sinai. There is now no other Israel)
Micah Describes The Coming Tribulations of Judah But Gives the Final Assurance That In The End YHWH Will Triumph (4.9-13).
The near future is seen as bleak. Judah and Jerusalem are seen as in despair, without any hope of assistance from their king or counsellors. Indeed they will endure birth pains and will be carried be forced to live in the open countryside, and even some of them in that arch enemy of God, Babylon.
But in the end God will rescue them from there, and deliver them from the hands of their enemies.
It is true that many nations will gather eagerly to see this upstart nation with its upstart God humbled, and watch in delight as their wishes are carried out, but what they are not aware of is that in fact YHWH has gathered those nations so that they might be threshed by the people of God who will be given iron horns and brazen hoofs, so that they can thresh the nations of the world and devote their wealth to YHWH.
We may ask why at this stage mention is made of Babylon. Surely we are dealing with Assyria? The answer is in fact based on what Babylon was in the eyes of Judah and Israel. Babylon was the initial city that raised itself against God (Genesis 11.1-9). It was the leading nation that sought to attack the covenant people (Genesis 14.1). It had become a mighty city full of claims about itself calling itself ‘the glory of the kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldean’s pride’ (Isaiah 13.19); its king set himself up in opposition to the Most High (Isaiah 14.13-14); it saw itself as ‘the Lady of the Kingdoms’ (Isaiah 47.5), it said ‘I am and there is none beside me’ (Isaiah 47.10) and was renowned for luxury, debauchery, idolatry and the occult (Isaiah 47.12-13). It was the centre of evil. It was the very opposite of Jerusalem.
Furthermore we know that exiles had already been carried off to Babylon (Shinar) (Isaiah 11.11), which to a prophet of YHWH must have been the worst fate imaginable. (Note Micah’s ‘even to Babylon’ - verse 10). They were in the hands of God’s Great Enemy, and of all the powers of evil. Thus the hope for the deliverance of God’s people from Babylon is not anachronistic. Compare how Isaiah even moreso saw Babylon as the ultimate enemy even in Assyria’s day (Isaiah 13-14).
So the future of God’s people was not at present a happy one, but the one thing that they could be assured of was that in the end YHWH would triumph. Any failure was theirs not His.
4.9 “Now why do you cry out aloud? Is there no king in you, is your counsellor perished, that pangs have taken hold of you as of a woman in travail?”
Micah visualises the pain of Judah as the advancing Assyrian armies destroy her cities one by one and commit wholesale atrocities. And he asks them why they are so disturbed. Do they not have a king? Do they not remember when they rejected YHWH as their king and thought that to have their own chosen king would solve all their problems (2 Samuel 7.5, 7)? Are their counsellors not still alive, to whom they have listened rather than to the prophets? Why then are they in such anguish? Can it be that these are failing them?
Indeed in the end Hezekiah would plead with YHWH and Jerusalem itself would be spared (2 Kings 19.1-7). But that was still in the future, and even then it did not prevent the rape of Judah.
4.10 “Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you will go forth out of the city, and will dwell in the field, and will come even unto Babylon. There will you be rescued; there will YHWH redeem you from the hand of your enemies.”
Thus because they have not trusted in YHWH they must go through their birth pains, and in the end the inhabitants of Zion will be carried off into the open countryside (the field) and will find themselves ‘even in Babylon’, in Jewish eyes the worst of all possible fates. Because they have been evil they will be totally given up to all that is evil. There is a hint here of the Exodus when Israel left Egypt, and were in the wilderness, before they arrived in Canaan. It is an Exodus in reverse, but to an even worse nation, Babylon.
It was only because Hezekiah humbled himself before YHWH that this future was delayed. But he was warned that because he had failed in the matter of making a peace treaty with Babylon exile in Babylon for his sons and other leading Israelites was only a matter of time (Isaiah 39.6-7), and in fact under his son Manasseh some would be carried off to Babylon, including even Manasseh himself (2 Chronicles 33.11 - Assyria had made Babylon one of its seats of power). This prophecy by Micah was presumably made after that warning of YHWH concerning Babylon had been given to Hezekiah.
But it would not mean that all was lost, because YHWH would rescue them from Babylon, and redeem them from the hand of their enemies. And that is precisely what happened with Manasseh when he repented and sought YHWH (2 Chronicles 33.12-13).
Micah’s words were even more completely fulfilled when Babylon became Israel’s chief adversary and destroyed Jerusalem and carried off its inhabitants to Babylon over a hundred years later.
4.11 “And now many nations are assembled against you, who say, “Let her be defiled, and let our eye see our desire on Zion.”
It is clear that many nations round about resented Judah’s revival of Yahwism under Hezekiah, with its exclusivism and closing down of high places for the gods of other nations. Thus they watched the Assyrian invasion with glee, and participated in it with them, and said, ‘Let her be defiled.’ They wanted this proud nation with its pure God to be humbled and become like themselves, being forced to accept into their Temple the gods of Assyria. They longed to see their desire on Zion, its total humiliation.
The Assyrian army would originally have been composed of many nations, for subject nations would be required to provide their contingents, and these would have been expanded as the victorious Assyrian army incorporated more men into their ranks as the different nations were subjugated. Many would surrender without fighting (1.11) and it would therefore be seen as natural that many of their menfolk were conscripted into the army, while those who resisted more strongly would be subject to reprisal, but the need of the army for conscripts would never be forgotten. Thus by this stage the Assyrian army would have included many peoples from surrounding countries including Philistines, the new peoples of Samaria, and even men of Judah.
One lesson we can learn from that is that those who serve God faithfully will always discover that there are those who wish to see them humiliated.
4.12 “But they do not know the thoughts of YHWH, nor do they understand his counsel, for he has gathered them as the sheaves to the threshingfloor.”
But what these nations fail to recognise are the thoughts of YHWH. They do not understand His counsel. If they had they would not have been so pleased. For what they did not realise was that YHWH was gathering them as sheaves for the threshingfloor. He was gathering them so that they could be sifted and revealed to be chaff.
Not the contrast between Micah question about Judah’s king and counsellors in verse 9, with the recognition here that YHWH is the King and Counsellor Who really matters. He will lead Judah aright if only they will hear Him.
4.13 “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion; for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs brass; and you will beat in pieces many peoples, and I will devote their gain to YHWH, and their substance to the Lord of the whole earth.”
So the nations need to beware. For YHWH is going to make the horns of Judah as iron, He is going to make their hoofs as brass. Here He is likening Judah to the oxen who trod the threshingfloor, who will be powerfully equipped for the job. And the result will be that just as the grain on the threshingfloor was crushed in pieces by the oxen’s hoofs, so will the nations be trodden down by Judah. If only His people will trust Him and believe in Him, and will obey His covenant, and will therefore obey Him and arise and thresh the nations, they will crush in pieces many peoples (Psalm 2.8-12). But note that God will devote what they gain to Himself, and the substance that they obtain to the One Whose it is, the Lord of the whole earth. In their eyes that would mean it going into the Temple treasury.
There was fulfilment of this to some extent when the armies gathered against Jerusalem were smitten by the plague, and even moreso when the Jews were later roused to faith and gained periods of independence by defeating their enemies But it was even more true when God’s people would go out with the word of truth to bring the nations in submission to Him, and they would bring their wealth under His control.
There is a reminder for us here that however serious the circumstances might appear, God is in control and has in mind the needs of His people.
God’s Enemies Are Determined To Demonstrate Their Power And To Smite YHWH’s Anointed (5.1).
The warning of the previous verse having been ignored the nations gather their forces for the attack on God’s people.
The nations are still determined to attack Judah in spite of Micah’s warning concerning the future. They gather themselves in troops, because they are ‘daughters of troops’, in other words that is the kind of people that they are. And thus their leader has laid siege against Jerusalem.
Their aim is to humiliate the one who is the judge of Israel. This may indicate Hezekiah. There was certainly nothing that Sennacherib wanted more to do than humiliate Hezekiah. He gloated over the fact that he had shut him up like a caged bird in Jerusalem. But the unusual term Judge may signify that the Judge of Israel is in mind, YHWH Himself. Either way they want to smite him with a rod on his cheek. The idea is of a symbol of authority being used to smite him across the cheek as a sign of his defeat, humiliation and submission.
As we know, because YHWH intervened in response to Hezekiah’s prayer it did not happen immediately. Indeed His enemies were then decimated by the angel of YHWH (2 King 19.35). But it did occur in the days of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh (compare 4.10).
But whenever it happened it would not be the end, for YHWH would eventually raise up a champion Who would accomplish His purposes.
The Announcement Is Made Of One Who Will Rise From A Humble Small Town Who Will Deliver His People And Will Become Great To The Ends Of The Earth (5.2-4).
The promise is now made that from the small town of Bethlehem Ephrathah, which is comparatively insignificant, will come one is to be ruler in Israel Whose activities have been eternally destined, or possibly have been destined from the beginning as evidenced for example in Genesis 3.15.
A ruler is to arise out of little Bethlehem whose activities have been ‘from of old, from everlasting’. The double emphasis indicates that it means from as far back as it could possibly be. Strictly speaking it signifies that he will actually have been active for that long, but was probably seen by most as meaning that His activities were in YHWH’s mind from the beginning.
The word for ‘little’ is a rarely used one and indicates ‘comparatively small’ (compare Psalm 68.27). The ‘thousands’ of Judah may refer to the large numbers of cities, towns and villages in Judah, or to the fact that Bethlehem’s contribution to the military units (‘thousands’) of Judah is very small. Or it could be the equivalent of ‘families, tribes’. Whichever way it is the unimportance of Bethlehem that is being brought out. Nevertheless it will produce this great King.
But why should he be described as coming from this obscure background in Bethlehem? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that it will not happen until the royal house of David has ceased to rule in Jerusalem. Judah will have sunk into a state of helplessness and hopelessness, and then suddenly from this small, insignificant town will arise this great leader of the Davidic house..
Bethlehem Ephrathah (compare Genesis 35.19) was called this in order to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem (house of bread) in Zebulun. It was situated a few kilometres south of Jerusalem.
‘Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.’ The dual repetition of words representing ancient times introduces the conception of everlastingness. For the conception compare Proverbs 8.22-23. Here is one Whose activities (‘going forth’) have been eternal. He is the King of the ages. For the significance of the verb ‘goings forth’ as indicating activity see Hosea 6.3; Ezekiel 12.4; 1 Kings 10.28; 2 Samuel 3.25.
It will be noted that these words parallel the ideas of Isaiah in Isaiah 9.6, ‘His Name will be called wonderful, counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Both prophets were looking for someone with divine connections
Thus the whole idea is of the ‘coming King’ Who has been destined by God from the beginning, Whose goings forth have been from eternity, Who will come forth from Bethlehem to fulfil God’s purposes. This ‘Messianic’ expectation is found in a number of passages. See Genesis 49.10; Numbers 24.17; 2 Samuel 7. 13, 16; Psalm 2; 89.27-29). Its final fulfilment through the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is emphasised in Matthew 2.6.
But the coming of this King will not be immediate. For God will first give up His people to travail and suffering like that of a woman in labour (compare 4.9, 10). However, once that is accomplished all who are apart will be gathered back to their people, and the King will stand among them, and will feed them in the strength of YHWH, and in the majesty of YHWH His God, and their continuance is guaranteed, and He Himself will be great to the ends of the earth (compare Psalm 2.7-9; 89.27-29). For YHWH is the Lord of the whole earth (4.13).
That the people did suffer greatly, and did then gather back from exile, and that they supremely came into a remarkable oneness in Jesus Christ, and that the King came among them in Jesus Christ, and fed them with the strength of YHWH and made known to them the majesty of God, both in His life and especially in the Transfiguration, is now well known. And from them He called a new people whose growth through the ages has been phenomenal, and is found in His church worldwide, while His Name is known wherever man is found.
Some, however, see the woman in travail as referring to the Messiah’s earthly mother, and thus see this as a direct indication that Israel will be ‘given up’ until that time.
Prior To His Coming YHWH Will Bring About The Wasting Of The Assyrians By Means Of Seven Shepherds and Eight Principal Men But His People Will Nevertheless End Up In Exile Among The Nations. (5.5-8).
The total change of subject, and the lack of any mention of the Ruler previously described, combined with the fact that at this stage the people will not yet have returned from exile (verses 7-8), indicates that what follows comes prior to the coming of the expected King.
God will bring about deliverance from the hands of the Assyrians, but nevertheless His people will have been carried off into exile in order that their sins might be rooted out (verses 10-15).
5.5 ‘And this shall be peace. When the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.’
However, peace will be accomplished, and Assyria defeated, prior to this coming of the King, by means of treaties with other nations against the Assyrians. Such attempts were constantly made as we know from Isaiah 39. And it is probable that Josiah joined in with such a confederacy and that his death later came about because as a member of such a confederacy he was seeking to prevent the Egyptian army from bringing aid to the Assyrians, who were under attack from the confederacy (2 Kings 23 29, where ‘against’ (‘al) the king of Assyria could be translated ‘with regard to’. Josiah would have had no reason for preventing Egypt from attacking Assyria, but every reason for preventing them from helping them). His action and death may well have sealed the fate of Assyria.
Thus Micah is making clear that while Assyrian depredations will continue into the future, it will be combated by an alliance of kings and chieftains.
Note on the position of Assyria in Josiah’s time.
Nearly two hundred years after Micah began prophesying, during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), Assyria was still the predominant force in Mesopotamia and after bitter struggles was continuing to maintain its hold on its empire and exact tribute. But its empire had become too large to control and although there was no single rival empire, its own empire was creaking at the seams. The Egyptians had become strong and had exerted their independence, and the Medes, Elamites and Babylonians were constantly causing trouble to the east, while the Lydians were doing the same to the north. Palestine just sat and waited, no doubt being ‘reminded’ every now and again by the Assyrians that it was necessary to remain loyal.
The death of Asshurbanapal in around 633 BC was the beginning of the end. Herodotus mentions a Medan attack on Nineveh and depredations by hordes of Scythians, and around that time Babylon struck for independence. In 626 BC the Babylonians defeated an Assyrian army, and asserted their independence, and all attempts by Assyria to reverse the situation proved in vain. Babylon then prepared to invade Assyria, with the Medes looming in the background, and the danger was so great that the Egyptians, fearing a new emerging power, went to the assistance of Assyria and together in 616 BC they drove back the invading Babylonians. But this was then followed by an attack on Asshur, the Assyrian capital by the Medes in 614 BC, at which point Babylon and the Medes entered into an official alliance. In 612 BC Nineveh was taken by siege and destroyed.
It seems probable that Josiah entered into an official alliance with them, for he would have been seen as a valuable ally who was in a position to keep an eye on the Egyptians and prevent further interference from them. And he certainly played his part, at the cost of his life, in ensuring that the Egyptians did not arrive in time to bolster up the failing Assyrian forces. (The alternative possibility is that as a tributary of Assyria he loyally tried on Assyria’s behalf to prevent Egypt from combining with the confederacy forces. But that seems unlikely).
The final attempts of the severely weakened Assyrian army to retake lost ground failed, and without the prompt assistance of the Egyptians, delayed by Josiah, the Assyrian centuries of dominance were over. The future lay with the confederacy. But from then on Babylon would become the new empire builder, for loyalties were temporary and soon forgotten. Had Josiah not intervened it might well have been better for Israel/Judah.
End of note.
So the constant depredations of the Assyrians against Judah will eventually be met by partaking in a confederacy of ‘seven kings and eight principal men’. The phrase need not be taken literally. It indicates a sufficiency of kings, and an even greater sufficiency of tribal leaders and chieftains. We can be sure that in view of the way in which the once invincible Assyrians were seen, the confederacy would gain as much support as possible, for their scattered forces once brought together were still strong. We have no certain knowledge of the make up of the confederacy, although it may well have included among others Lydia, Babylon, the Medes, the Elamites and Israel/Judah.
5.6 ‘And they will waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in its entrances, and he will deliver us from the Assyrian, when he comes into our land, and when he treads within our border.’
The confederacy will attack Assyria and waste its land, and will reach its borders and even beyond. The land of the mighty Nimrod (Genesis 10.9, 11), which had for so long been invincible, will itself be invaded, and in this way will YHWH deliver His people from the Assyrians with their continual depredations on Israel/Judah.
Meanwhile Israel/Judah Will Have Been Scattered Among Many Nations, Where They Will Be Like Showers Of Rain, And YHWH Will Be With Them And Watch Over Them (5.7-8).
The defeat of Assyria will not solve the problem of the large numbers of people from Israel/Judah who have been deported. There were first those from northern Galilee when that part was annexed as an Assyrian province, then those resulting from the campaigns in and final capture of Samaria, then those resulting from Sennacherib’s protracted campaign in Judah, and there would be others in the future (see Isaiah 11.11). But unknown to the world YHWH has a purpose for them.
5.7 ‘And the remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples as dew from YHWH, as showers upon the grass, that tarry not for man, nor wait for the sons of men.’
The remnant of the exiles of Jacob (Israel/Judah) will be among the peoples as dew from YHWH. They will be like showers on the vegetation. The picture is one of fruitfulness and blessing. Their different way of life, their upholding of distinctive covenant laws (which would become more precious in heathen lands), and their belief in one God, will have their effects on the peoples among whom they live. They will be like a light in a dark place. And this would be even more so when the Gospel began to reach out to the synagogues and the converted remnant would begin to proclaim the Gospel to the world.
‘That tarry not for man, nor wait for the sons of men.’ We can here compare John 3.7, ‘the wind blows where it will’. God’s activity is not restricted by men nor dependent on men. He will in His own way use the exiles to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
5.8 ‘And the remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.’
And YHWH will not only use His people like showers, but He will also make them strong and able to cope with their adversaries. For His people will be like lions in contrast with other wild beasts, and like young lions among a flock of sheep. The latter especially can act without restraint, and do what he wishes with no one to restrain him. For He will be present to protect them.
We can think in this context of how YHWH watched over His people in different parts of the world, Daniel and his friends in Babylon and Persia, giving them positions of great power through which they could watch over God’s people; Nehemiah and others in places of high authority in the Persian empire; Mordecai and Esther, and the way in which God enabled the Jews to be victorious over their enemies in Persia; and they way in which historically the Jews became well established in Alexandria and well able to take care of themselves. We have no reason to doubt that in smaller ways also God acted to protect His people to make them strong.
5.9 ‘Let your hand be lifted up above your adversaries, and let all your enemies be cut off.’
As a result of God’s protection their hands will be lifted up above their adversaries. That is they will triumph and be successful. And in the end all their enemies will be cut off. For He will bring them through their trials and tribulations right through to the end. For His purpose for them, unknown to any but Him, was that they would be the firstfruits of the new congregation of the Messiah.
The Reason Why God Allows The Exile Of His People And Will Yet Cause More Exiles Until The Land Is Empty (5.10-15).
In another oracle (‘says YHWH’) Micah now explains why all Israel’s troubles must come upon her. It is in order to purify her and rid her of all the trappings of idolatry.
5.10-11 ‘And it will come about in that day, says YHWH, that I will cut off your horses out of the midst of you, and will destroy your chariots, and I will cut off the cities of your land, and will throw down all your strongholds.’
In spite of the promises given above of the defeat of their arch enemy Assyria, they must not assume that all will be well with them. For God has the purpose in the future of rendering them totally defenceless. He will remove their horses, He will destroy their chariots, He will bring their cities to ruin, and He will throw down all their strongholds.
The warnings against depending on horses and chariots come regularly in the prophets, and in the Psalms (Psalm 20.7; Isaiah 2.7; 30.15-17; Hosea 10.13). The whole point is that they should take heed to the warning and start looking to YHWH alone.
The picture is one of massive invasion and total annihilation. And the reason for it is now given, it is because in spite of all His warnings, and all His chastening, they continue to cling to their witchcraft, and their mediums and fortune-tellers, and their idols. They just will not let them go. And thus the only way in which He can rid them of them is to remove them from the land where they practise such things.
5.12-14 ‘And I will cut off witchcrafts out of your hand, and you will have no more soothsayers, and I will cut off your graven images and your pillars out of the midst of you; and you will no more worship the work of your hands, and I will pluck up your Asherim out of the midst of you, and I will destroy your cities.’
Here YHWH lists the things that cause such offence and make this people only evil continually. Witchcraft is connected with the use of the occult to affect things in the world, soothsaying has to do with contact with the dead and with familiar spirits, graven images were carved figures of the forbidden gods, including the Baals, stone pillars were representations of deities regularly found in high places, and even in the Temple, the Asherim were either wooden poles or Asherah images carved out of wood representing the female consorts of the Baals. All these things were to be removed from them and out of their hands. And because of the prevalence in their cities, their cities too will be destroyed. Only thus can the land be rid of such thing.
5.15 ‘And I will execute vengeance in anger and wrath upon the nations which did not listen.’
This may well be referring to Israel and Judah. But it may also indicate that YHWH’s wrath will also be visited on the nations who have ill-treated His people because they too have not listened to Him. Certainly elsewhere the nations are blamed for going further than YHWH intended them to go (compare Isaiah 10.7-15).
Micah Now Calls On Creation To Witness YHWH’s Case Against Israel, And Finishes By Stating YHWH’s Requirements. (6.1-8)
Knowing that the people might be puzzled as to why YHWH should treat His people as described in 5.10-15, Micah, having called on creation as witnesses, now presents YHWH’s case. The people respond to His case and reveal in their response their total lack of understanding of what YHWH is really like. Their view is that He can be pacified with offerings and gifts. Micah then replies by explaining what YHWH does really want of them, that they will do what is right, love compassion, and walk thoughtfully before God.
The Prophet calls on creation to hear YHWH’s case against His people (6.1-2).
YHWH Puts His Case to the People (6.3-4).
The People Ask What Is Required Of Them (6.6-7).
The Prophet Explains What YHWH Really Wants (6.8).
We will now consider it section by section.
In the first instance Micah calls on the people to hear what YHWH says, and then calls on them to make their case before the mountains and hills which have witnessed all that has gone on in past ages, especially the false worship in the high places. Then he turns to the mountains and the foundations of the earth, asking them to witness the controversy that YHWH has with His people, and will now bring before them
Note the careful chiastic arrangement. The opening and closing thoughts are of contending, while in between come the two controversies. This calling on creation to witness God’s controversies with His people is a regular feature of the prophets. See Isaiah 3.13 ff; 5.3 ff; Jeremiah 25.31; Hosea 4.1; 12.2.
YHWH Himself now calls on His people to tell Him what He has done to upset them, and why they have grown weary of Him. He is calling on them to testify against Him. But before they make their reply He explains what He has done for them so that they will be without excuse.
His case is a strong one:
And He had done it so that they might know the righteous acts of YHWH. Note the emphasis on righteous. YHWH wants to bring home that He is above all righteous. This should have made them pause and think before they made fools of themselves. But it failed. Like many religious people their view was that what mattered to God was right religious ritual and observance, and plenty of it.
And so they asked:
They wanted to know what was required of them as they made their formal obeisance to YHWH, the High God, in the temple. Did He require burnt offerings consisting of the valuable one year old calves? Did He expect thousands of rams or tens of thousands of rivers of oil, more lavish offerings even than Solomon’s (1 Kings 8.5)? Did He expect them to sacrifice their own firstborns to Him in order to pay for their sins, giving the fruit of their body (their firstborns) for the sin of their inner hearts? This last was the requirement of Moloch (Melech) from his worshippers. Did YHWH require the same?
Note how the level of sacrifice has risen with each step forward. But they are expecting an easy ride. They do not expect the last two requests to be taken seriously. They know from their history that YHWH hates child sacrifice. So they are confident that they really know how much God wants. But Micah’s reply comes back as a shock to them. God wants none of these things unless their hearts are right. He is not looking for ritual and observance. However great their offerings it will not be sufficient. What He is looking for is obedience to the covenant, to His moral requirements.
Compare for similar prophetic teaching, Isaiah 1.11-17; Amos 5.21-24; Psalm 40.6-8; 50.7-14; 51.16-17).
Micah’s reply is sublime. He points out that YHWH has Himself shown them what is good. It is to do what is right. It is to love showing compassion and mercy. It is to walk humbly with God carefully observing His commandments. Note that the last adverb translated ‘humbly’ includes the idea of careful consideration to what is required. The point of prime importance is His stress on the fact that what YHWH requires is not ritual and offerings but true goodness of life, and that only that will prevent all the evil things that have been described coming upon them.
Sadly his words were ignored. But they are spoken to us too. We fail to observe them at our peril.
The Prophet Now Reinforces His Words By Calling For Their Response And Emphasising Their Failures And What Will Result From Them (6.9-16).
Although YHWH pleads with His people they still walk in their sinful ways and disregard His voice. Thus He warns them that they will bring on themselves the disaster that is coming.
The voice of YHWH is speaking to all the cities of Judah, and especially to Jerusalem, and those who are wise will see Who He is and what He is.
But His words come especially to the king, the one who holds the sceptre, the one finally responsible for justice. ‘Hear, O rod,’ He cries, and includes within His cry those who appointed the king. It is a serious matter to be in a position of leadership. It is equally serious to be responsible for having appointed such a leader.
Alternately we may translate as a cry to the people, ‘Hear you the rod, and those who have appointed him.’ In the end both apply. All are responsible to hear the voice of YHWH.
The first charge is that of dishonesty in business dealings. Are the houses of the fraudulent businessmen full of dishonest gain? Do they make use of a short measure, thus not giving fair value? Can a man be pure when he uses dishonest balances (scales), or when he makes use of dishonest weights when measuring.
The ensuring of standard weight and measures was no easy task, and monitoring of it even harder. So men took advantage of the situation to give short measure. They thought that they were very clever, but they overlooked the fact that God knew and saw. It is interesting that in Micah’s eyes this even came before violence. It was something that most affected the poor.
‘For the rich men thereof are full of violence,
The rich men get their way by violence and sending round ‘the heavies’. They keep people in fear, by making them live under threat of what will happen if they are not compliant. And all the inhabitants lie and cheat, and nothing that they say can be trusted. Thus each city is full of transgression and sinfulness, for the least to the greatest.
It is because of these sins that He has been describing that YHWH will smite them with a grievous wound and make them desolate. As so often the idea may partly be of plague and pestilence, as well as of invasion. It includes all the judgments of YHWH. This is why they will suffer illness, their land will be laid waste, their riches dissipated, and their cities destroyed.
And the consequence will be that they will not partake of the fruits of their labours. Those who have worked so hard to build up wealth, will find that they lose it all, and those who have laboured to provide for their own needs, will find themselves in greater need. And all because of their sins. They will find themselves with insufficient to eat, with their streets full of inedible garbage (or worse).
They will store up, but it will be in vain, for it will be lost. And what they do save will be given over to invading soldiers. They will sow their crops, but be in no position to reap them, they will tread the olives, but be unable to make use of the produce, they will tread the grapes, but not enjoy the wine.
The whole picture is in terms of what they are living for, and the things that matter to them most. They are the things that they have put before obedience to YHWH. And therefore they will lose them all. It might be by pestilence or it might be by warfare, but it would be sure.
Omri was Ahab’s father, and in the eyes of the outside world a great king of Israel. Other nations saw Israel’s kingship for years to come as consisting of ‘the house of Omri’, even when it had strictly ceased to be so. He came to the throne, with the support of the people, after a series of coups and counter-coups which followed the death of Baasha. He built Samaria and moved the capital of Israel from Tirzah to Samaria. There was no doubt of his greatness. But God’s record of him was that he ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH and sinned above all who were before him’ (1 Kings 16.25). We are probably to see from this that, as well as supporting the two sanctuaries set up by Jeroboam, he openly encouraged idolatry and the worship of the gods of Canaan.
And these sins were carried to an even greater extent by his son Ahab who married Jezebel the daughter of the king of Sidon and Tyre, who introduced the Tyrian Baal (‘Aleyan Baal’) into the land on top of the local Baals. It was she who would be the great enemy of Elijah, and whose god would be humiliated at his hands.
It was the works of such openly evil kings as these that the people followed, and it was their counsels that they observed, rather than remaining faithful to YHWH and obeying His covenant. And these gods were not concerned about men’s behaviour (they were too busy sinning themselves). They were said to be perfectly satisfied with sacrifices. Thus to follow them was to turn from all the righteous ways of YHWH.
That was why YHWH will make this people a desolation (as he had the house of Ahab who were all slaughtered), and why people will hiss at them, and why they will bear the reproach that is due to His people for their sins. The idea behind hissing is that of derision (Jeremiah 25.9; 51.37).
The mention of Omri and Ahab does not necessarily indicate that Micah is speaking to Israel as against Judah. It is just that Omri and Ahab were such symbols of wickedness and idolatry that they could be used even in Judah.
Micah (Or The Righteous Of Israel) Bewails The Condition Of The People (7.1-6).
Micah (or the righteous of Israel whom he represents) now describe(s) the dreadful moral condition of his own people. From rich and powerful to the lowest level of society all are untrustworthy and undependable. Even close members of families cannot trust each other.
This passage bore heavily on the heart of Jesus when He considered the conditions of the people of His own day, and what was to come. The idea behind verse 1 may well be the motivation which led to Jesus’ dealings with the fig tree in Mark 11.11-25; compare Matthew 21.18-22, while verse 6 was cited by Him in Matthew 10.21, 35-36.
Micah is on the search for righteous people. He likens himself to a man going out into the orchards after the summer fruits have been gathered in, when according to the Law there should have been some left-overs, the gleanings, for the poor. But there were none. The rich had stripped every branch bare for greatest profit. Thus all that was left to him was to long for the firstripe fig which would begin the next season (which men could pluck if they were hungry). That was either an early green fig from a particular type of fig tree which could be gathered before the usual fig crop, or simply ‘the firstripe fig before the summer, which when he who looks on it sees, he eats it up while it is in his hand’ mentioned in Isaiah 28.4. There are two points to the illustration. Firstly that Micah went looking for fruit and found none, and could only wait in hope for the first ripe fig of the following season, (a disastrous situation for the poor who depended on the gleanings) an illustration of the barrenness of the nation. And secondly that the growers were failing to observe God’s commandments. Thus accentuating the barrenness. Jesus did not even find the first ripe figs, so bad were the spiritual and moral conditions in Jerusalem in His day.
In the same way as there was no fruit on the fruit trees, so were there no godly people in the land. As Micah looked around he bewailed the fact that ‘the godly man is perished out of the earth, and there is none upright among men.’ That was how it seemed to him. Christians in places where there is little fellowship often feel that way. But things are never quite as bad as they seem, as is evidenced by the fact that righteousness wins in the end, because of the activity of God.
Indeed rather than being upright men are steeped in sin. Like a hunter out to get his victim every man is out to entrap his brother. Violence abounds, and there is internecine rivalry. Brotherly love is totally lacking.
Everyone is diligent in putting their hands to what is evil. Even the prince wants rewarding for his favours, and the judges are waiting for a bribe. The great man thus gets his own way by saying what he wants and then paying the appropriate bribe. They all in their own ways are weaving the same pattern of sin together. Of course such things happen in many societies. But here it had become blatant.
Indeed the best of them is like a briar which tears at the hands, and the most upright is worse than a thorn bush. Those who tangle with them soon wish they had not, because they find the equivalent of vicious thorns left in their hands.
But these people should beware. For the day of their watchmen, the day of their visitation is come. This may be referring to the prophets as their watchmen (Isaiah 21.6; Jeremiah 6.17; Ezekiel 3.17; 33.7; Habakkuk 2.1) and thus be speaking of the day of visitation against which they warned. Or it may have in mind the city’s watchmen. In times of peace the watchmen had a weary task for which none were grateful. Day after day they watched in vain, and achieved nothing. But their day came when the enemy were seen on the horizon and they were able to give the warning. All the waiting had then been worthwhile. All then recognised their worth. And this was the day that was now coming, the day when the enemy approached, the day when the people would be visited with God’s judgment. Now indeed they would find themselves in a state of perplexity.
But the worst thing of all about the society in which Micah lived as he saw it was the total lack of confidence that it was possible for people to put in each other. Neighbour could not trust neighbour, friend could not trust friend, and even that bastion of loyalty the family, had become a haven of distrust and malice. It was a picture of society at its very lowest.
How far this reflected the actual circumstances under which he lived in Jerusalem, or how far it was simply the direction in which he saw things going, we are left to decide for ourselves. But the warning is clear. This is what eventually happens to society when it turns against God.
Jesus cited verse 6 as an illustration of what Christians must expect from many of their unbelieving families. The thought is tragic. A son dishonouring his father. A daughter rivalling and going against her mother, a daughter-in-law being active against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies being those of his own household. It was almost inconceivable, but such was the depths of human sinfulness that it would happen.
The Righteous of Israel Are However Confident That In All This YHWH Will Be With Them And Will Sustain Them While Their Enemy Will Be Confounded (7.7-10).
The words that follow clearly refer to more than just Micah. He is speaking as the representative of the truly righteous, the ‘seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal’ (righteous Israel or the righteous remnant of Jerusalem). While they are not wholly sinless and may have to bear the indignation of YHWH, they know that He will act on their behalf. They know that in the end He will vindicate them, and that their enemies will be confounded.
The hearts of the righteous (thinking from the point of view of each one of them, or from the point of view of the righteous remnant in Jerusalem) look to their God. They are ready to wait patiently for their Saviour to act on their behalf and deliver them. They do not doubt that He will hear them.
And so they challenge their enemies not to rejoice when they think that they have fallen. For when they fall they will, with the help of YHWH, arise. When they sit in darkness they know that YHWH will be a light to them.
How often this turns out to be true for the Christian. Everyone must pass through times of darkness, and they may not at first be aware that the light of YHWH is there to help them, but gradually that light will find its way through, and they will discover that God has been with them all the time, leading the way.
The righteous recognise that they might have to bear the indignation of YHWH along with others. They know that they are not without sin, and that they must expect chastening. But they know also that eventually He will plead their cause. He will not leave them under chastening. He will act on their behalf. He will execute justice for them. He will bring them forth into the light. And then they will behold His righteousness and His saving power (which is a part of His righteousness). Then they will see the King in His beauty and will be satisfied.
7.10 ‘Then my enemy will see it,
And all their enemies round about, who had enjoyed her discomforture (this suggests especially the righteous of Jerusalem) will be ashamed. The rival neighbour who had sneeringly said, ‘Where is YHWH your God?’ will be filled with embarrassment. For they will find themselves trodden down like the mire of the unmade muddy streets.
Micah Gives A Declaration Of Confidence In What YHWH Will Do In The Future For His True People.
In this remarkable prophecy Micah declares that in the future the nations will come to Jerusalem from their own mountains, to seek the mountain of YHWH, and yet it will be to a desolate land to which they come because of the fruit of the people’s doing. This is an accurate reflection of the situation in Jerusalem when there was the new nation of Israel, the messengers of YHWH (and of the Messiah) to which many from around the world would come to find life in Christ, while there was also the old nation of Israel which was barren and fruitless.
Micah expects a day of rebuilding. This prophecy was probably made as Assyria closed in on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were one by one destroyed. But Micah is confident that the walls of those cities would be rebuilt when Israel was free again. The prophecy gained in meaning once Jerusalem itself had been destroyed, but there is no mention of it in the narrative.
The removal of the decree probably refers to YHWH’s decree to bring judgment on His people, but it may refer to the king of Assyria’s decree to destroy Judah. Either way the decree will be reversed and be far removed because of YHWH’s will. The alternative possible translation indicates that once again Judah would expand outwards once the invasion was over.
Of course the prophecy found an expanded fulfilment when Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but that was not necessarily what the prophet (or the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophet) had in mind.
What is, however, central in the words is the promise of the reversal of judgment and the guarantee of future prosperity..
But Micah also has in mind his prophecy in 4.2, and so he assures them that one day (‘in that day’ is a prophetic term for a long time ahead) the nations will come to God’s people and to Jerusalem from all round the world. They will come from Assyria, and Egypt (compare Isaiah 19.18-25), and from the land between Egypt and the Euphrates, and from east and west (the Great Sea to the Persian Gulf), and from mountain to mountain. This last phrase ties in with the hills above which the mountain of YHWH will be exalted (4.1). They will leave behind their own various mountains of the gods as they seek YHWH.
Alternately the reference may be to the return of Exiles from those countries. But the first seems more likely in view of 4.2
And yet they will come to a desolate land because those who dwell in it have not looked after it and have not behaved well in it. It is not the land and the people to whom they are coming, but to YHWH and His messengers (4.2).
The Prophet Now Pleads with YHWH To Feed His People Like A Shepherd (7.14).
In 5.4 the coming King was to ‘stand and feed in the strength of YHWH’. Here Micah looks forward to that day. He calls on YHWH to feed His people with His rod. The rod indicates the shepherd’s rod with which He will act as their protector while the sheep are feeding so that they can feed securely (compare Psalm 23.4). Alternately it may have in mind ‘the rod who will arise out of Israel’ (see Numbers 24.17), the coming Messiah who is to feed His people (5.2-4). Either way the future time of blessing is in mind.
The flock, who are YHWH’s heritage, are pictured as gathered in the forest on Mount Carmel and dwelling alone. This may have in mind a known remnant of the northern kingdom who had taken refuge there and as a tiny remnant were a picture of the pressed in people of God, or may simply be a way of emphasising the solitariness in the world of God’s people (compare Numbers 23.9; Deuteronomy 33.28). Either way the prayer is for the extension of their pasturage into a land of fruitfulness.
The cry is that God would feed His people with His rod, by leading them into good pastures under His protection, and that His hemmed in people might be granted widespread pastures in places of great fruitfulness. The idea may be that they might be restored to the boundaries of old, with Carmel on the west and Bashan and Gilead on the east, as in the days of old. Bashan and Gilead were famous for having good pasturage for flocks and being places of fruitfulness.
‘The flock of your heritage, who dwell solitarily, in the forest in the midst of Carmel.’ This may suggest that it was here that refugees from the destruction of Israel and Samaria had found safety, and that he was now pleading that they might be able to expand throughout the land as in the days of old. But certainly the general idea is that YHWH will once again be the Shepherd of His people and lead them forth so that they might spread throughout the whole country that had once been theirs. In other words, it is a prayer for fulfilment of the promises for the good times to come.
YHWH Makes His Reply (7.15).
YHWH’s response is to promise that just as He had when He had delivered them from Egypt, so would He once again so marvellous things for them. He will reach out with His powerful hand and His mighty arm, so as to deliver His people.
And certainly the future restoration of His people from many places of exile to Palestine, and the later establishment of a powerful and widespread Jewish nation, was evidence that He kept His word. And even more marvellous things were done when the Messiah came among them and healed all who came to Him, preparing them for their inheritance to come. In Hebrews this picture of inheriting the land is finally seen in terms of the new Heaven and earth, when Abraham will receive the fulfilment of God’s promises in a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker was God (Hebrews 11.10), and where his descendants will receive a better country, that is a heavenly (Hebrews 11.16).
Micah Then Outlines What The Effect Will Be On The Nations As A Result Of What YHWH Will Do (7.16-17)
What YHWH will do will amaze the nations and will also make them ashamed of their belligerence. Thus they will come to Him with no vaunted claims of their own, and will submit to Him, and know the fear of YHWH.
Before the glorious revelation of YHWH, especially as revealed in the coming of His Messiah as healer, wonder worker and Saviour, the nations will be ashamed of their weapons and their armed might, they will lay their hands on their mouths so as to express their awe (‘God is in Heaven and we are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ - Ecclesiastes 5.2), not daring to speak, they will close their ears to the externalities of the world, they will humble themselves as the serpent was humbled in Eden (Genesis 3.14), they will recognise their lowliness before Him as they creep out of their ‘hiding places’ into His light, and they will come with fear to YHWH, and will fear the people of God. The picture is of the Gentiles responding to the message of Christ, and submitting at His feet
Micah Closes His Prophecy With The Assurance of What God Will Do For His People. (7.18-20).
As his prophecy comes to its close Micah continues by exulting in God’s pardoning goodness and in His compassionate mercy. In this message he is very much in parallel with Isaiah. See Isaiah 43.25; 44.22. Then he declares His confidence and certainty that God will fulfil to His true people all the promises He has made to their fathers. He is to be seen both as the great Forgiver, and as the great keeper of His promises.
Firstly He stresses the pardoning goodness of God, and asks what other god is like YHWH, who pardons men’s inbred sin, and passes over the failings and disobedience of what will remain of His heritage after His judgments. Notice that the forgiveness is to the remnant. The unrighteous have been dealt with and removed.
And this is because He does not retain His anger for ever, because He delights in true and genuine covenant love. God’s sovereign purpose of mercy for His people had been revealed at Sinai (Exodus 19.5-6; 20.1-18) and means that in the end mercy must triumph over judgment, because of what He is. But this can nevertheless only be, once He has purged His people and brought judgment on the wicked. His wrath against sin must first be removed.
So He will again have compassion on His people, will tread their inner sins under his foot as so much refuse, and will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. All that stood against them will be removed for ever as they go forward into the everlasting kingdom.
Thus will He fulfil the promises that He made to the fathers in the days of old. He will demonstrate His truthfulness of nature towards Jacob (and his descendants), and He will demonstrate His lovingkindness and compassion (covenant love) towards Abraham, in the way that He swore to them in the days of old. He will prove faithful to all that He has promised. Thus does Micah finish with an indication that God will be fully vindicated.
Notice finally the promises of grace and truth. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1.17).
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