Micah Chapters 1-3Series: Minor Prophets Commentaries
1:1 The name Micah, is a shortened form of the name Micaiah, which means “Who is like Jehovah?” This prophet is also mentioned elsewhere, in Jeremiah’s day the elders referred to Micah and quoted Micah 3:12 (Jeremiah 26:18). Micah was from the city of Moresheh (MOH reh sheth), a Judean town about 25 miles SW of Jerusalem near the Philistine city of Gath. This city was located in the foothills of Judea, near the city of Lachish, an important international trading point. “In the days of”: Micah began prophesying before the destruction of Samaria (1:5) (722 B.C.), and continued into the reign of Hezekiah (Jeremiah 26:18-19). He appears to have been a younger contemporary of Isaiah. The most probable date for his work is 735-700 B.C. The book of Micah is perhaps best remembered because of the prophecy about the birthplace of Jesus (5:2; Matthew 2:6), and of the beginning place of the new kingdom (4:1-2; Acts 2). However, the book also contains many other important messages. The message of the book is directed against various evils: moral corruption (2:1-2; 3:1-2); idolatry (1:7; 5:12-15; 6:16); form-only religion (6:6-8); false prophets (3:5-7); and greedy priests (3:11). For the political background of the book, read 2 Kings 15:17-20:21 and 2 Chronicles chapters 26-30.
1:1 “Which came to…. which he saw”: The content of what Micah spoke came from God (2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrase which came to is “common to many of the prophets and is important in light of this revelation or “word” from the Lord to His people. God wanted Israel to react rationally to His word and to make proper decisions based on it. Her religious system contrasted directly with the contemporary pagan fertility religions in which sensory experience was the highest form of religious expression” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1477).
- God’s word “came”. Let us never take for granted the fact that our God has spoken. Such is an act of sheer grace and kindness.
- Consider the brevity of the book. Micah preached for some 38 or 40 years, and yet we can read the book of Micah within an hour.
- We are told very little about Micah the man. Nothing is said about his likes, hobbies, education, degrees awarded, positions he held or family life. The focus is on the message, not the messenger.
1:1 “Samaria and Jerusalem”: Samaria was the capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel, and Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern kingdom of Judah. These two cities represented all 12 tribes of the nation.
1:2 “The book of Micah opens with a court scene. God is Judge, Plaintiff and Witness. The entire earth is called upon to witness the case against the covenant people of God…. Later Micah describes the blessings which will come upon those nations which heed God’s summons (4:1-4), and the catastrophes which befall those who do not give heed (5:15)” (Smith p. 284). Here we are reminded that the Lord is not some local deity, but rather the entire earth is subject to Him (Psalm 24:1). God makes announcements and judgments, which impact all the nations. “From His holy temple”: God speaks from His holy temple, which is probably a reference to His dwelling place in heaven.
1:3 “The prophet pictured God treading or walking on the high places of the earth. In His majesty He was like a gigantic person stepping from one mountain peak to another. Thus God is capable of doing whatever He wants to do without being stopped by anyone” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1477). In the ancient world possession of the high ground ensured victory in battle, so God is depicted as a victorious conqueror. The implication of this description is this: Yahweh is infinitely greater than the created universe. Thus, God is pictured as neither distant or safe. He is not removed, off in some remote part of the universe, rather, He is here, watching men and bringing judgments. Micah is not interested in us feeling better at the moment, rather, he wants us to tremble.
1:4 This is poetic language, but drives home the point, “how could mere man stand in the presence of such a God when the most substantial of earth’s topography cannot endure His coming?” (Smith p. 286).
1:5 God is coming in judgment because of the sins of His people, including both kingdoms. The center of rebellion in the north was the city of Samaria. Through such rulers as Jeroboam, Ahab, and Jezebel, idolatry and Baal worship had entered into the northern kingdom. The term high place is often linked with idolatry in the Old Testament. Jerusalem, which had contained God’s temple, had become a center for idolatry (2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; Jeremiah 32:35), and contained shrines to false gods. “These unauthorized or idolatrous shrines virtually made all of Jerusalem a ‘high place’. This passage probably antedates the heroic efforts of Hezekiah to remove those high places (2 Chron. 31:1)” (Smith p. 287). These two capital cities set the place for the rest of the nation. From these passages we should learn that apostasy can enter into the very center of worship among God’s people, and what should have been the religious capital of the nation had actually led the rest of the nation into apostasy. Thus, even Jerusalem has become one huge center of illegitimate worship.
Yes, Micah will condemn the surrounding nations, and yet he equally condemns Israel and Judah. Sin is sin even among God’s people.
1:6 Samaria would be completely destroyed, even to its foundations. The ruins of Samaria can be seen today. Rather than a populated city, Samaria would become a heap of rubble, a field for vineyards. This prophecy was fulfilled in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:1-5).
1:7 All of the false worship that flourished in Samaria would be destroyed along with the city itself. The idols would be smashed and the temple earnings burned. God viewed the wealth gained through false religion as the earnings of a harlot. There is a lesson here: Some religious groups justify their existence on the basis of what they are accomplishing in a material sense. However God doesn’t teach us that the end justifies the means. Wealth gained through false doctrine is viewed by God as being wages gained through spiritual prostitution. “Israel had looked upon her prosperity as the pay for her spiritual service to the baalim. The idols were built from her wealth. Though beaten down, these idols and Israel’s wealth would be carried into a foreign nation and there be offered by the conqueror before his idols as further wages in religious harlotry” (Hailey p. 194).
1:8 “I must lament and wail”: To wail was to intensify mourning to the ultimate extreme. Micah cannot gloat for the coming destruction upon God’s people, rather he is compelled to mourn. Through this unrestrained display of grief Micah underscored the desperate plight of his people and his compassion for those people. Like Jesus, Micah cares about what happens even to the wicked among God’s people (Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44). The word naked doesn’t necessarily mean nude, but half naked, poorly dressed, without the upper garment, or stripped to the waist, and dressed like a captive. To dress in this fashion symbolized defeat and humiliation. Micah found no joy in preaching against the sins of Israel. “He would wail with the mourning sounds of the jackal and the fearful and doleful screech of the ostrich” (Hailey p. 195). Do we love God’s people so much that when a child of God falls away, we mourn? “Coming as he did from rural areas, Micah was quite familiar with the piercing, high-pitched howls and jarring yelps of the jackals” (Smith p. 289).
1:9 “Her wound is incurable”: At this point nothing could be done to save the northern kingdom, and the judgment coming upon Israel would reach all the way to the gates of Jerusalem, a city which Micah loved dearly. We must learn that sin spreads and has a corrupting nature. Here we some had reach the point of no return. The fix offered had been repeated rejected, thus, recovery is not possible.
In the following seven verses we find a number of “puns” and observe the words in parenthesis, which are the literal meaning of the names of the villages and towns:
Gath (tell-town), tell it not
Beth-le-aphrah (dust-town), roll in the dust
Saphir (fair-town, pleasantness) pass by (fair-town) in nakedness and shame
Zaanan (march-town), inhabitants did not march forth
Bethezel (neighbor-town, house of removal), He will take from you its support
Maroth (bitter-town), becomes weak waiting for good
Lachish (horse-town), harness the chariot to the swift horse
Moresheth-gath (possession of Gath), will give parting gifts
Achzib (false-spring), becomes a deception to the kings of Israel
Mareshah (heir-town), given to another heir
Adullum (wild-beast’s cave), shall the glory of Israel come.
The towns that Micah mentions here are all found in the Shephelah, the low-lying foothills to the west of the hill country of Judah, an area about twenty-seven miles long and ten miles wide.
1:10 “Tell it not in Gath”: May have been a popular proverb, compare with 2 Samuel 1:20, David did not want the Philistines to be glad about the demise of King Saul. “Like David, Micah would have preferred that the news of the calamity about to come upon Judah be kept from the enemies, that no public proclamation be made” (Laestch p. 250). “Let there be a media blackout…They should not do anything to publish their disgrace” (Micah, Dale Ralph Davis, p. 30). Micah was embarrassed that God had to judge His own people! Let us resolve to do nothing that would bring shame upon God, Christianity, or the church. Neither should Gath weep, for then others would know about the desolation. The word “Gath” and “tell” sound somewhat alike in the Hebrew language. “Roll yourself in the dust”: The city of Beth le aphrah (beth leh AF ruh) (house of dust), were to express their grief by rolling in the dust (Jeremiah 6:26; Ezekiel 27:20). “In the face of the coming calamity even those in outlying villages would suffer devastation beyond imagination” (Smith p. 291).
1:11 The city of Shaphir (SHAY fur), has the meaning of “fair, beautiful, or pleasant”. This city will be stripped of every vestige of her beauty and stand before the world in shameful nakedness. “Here we have, perhaps, an allusion to the shameful treatment accorded by Assyrian and Babylonian armies to their captives, men and women” (Laestch p. 251). The city of Zaanan (ZAY ah nan), means “going forth”. The inhabitants of this town would not go forth or escape. “The Zaananites would not dare go outside their city walls because of the warfare” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1479). The town of Beth-ezel (beth EE zul), which means “neighbor-town”, would no longer be able to be neighborly. “It will no longer serve as a ‘near-by’ town where one could find rest, refreshment, refuge” (Laetsch p. 251).
1:12 The city of Maroth (MAY roth), means “bitterness”. This city would anxiously wait in vain for relief from Jerusalem, yet no relief would come because the destruction would go all the way to the gate of Jerusalem.
1:13 Lachish was a large fortress about twenty-five miles SW of Jerusalem. Its strategic position made it a very important military and trading post. “She was the beginning of sin”: This expression might mean that this city influenced Jerusalem toward idolatry. It could also mean that this city housed a large chariot force that Judah leaned upon for support, instead of the Lord. “Trade with surrounding heathen countries led to unholy alliances and unholy marriages. Solomon’s idolatry is brought into close connection with his horse-trading business and multiplying of chariots (1 Kings 10:26-11:9)” (Laetsch p. 252).
1:14 The city of Moresh-gath, was actually Micah’s hometown. This city would be given her farewell gifts. “The picture is of a woman about to leave her home to go under the authority of another. In this case, Moresheth was doomed to come under the authority of an enemy” (Smith pp. 292-293). The city of Achzib (ACK zib), means “falsehood”. The idea seems to be that this town would prove unreliable in the defense of Judah.
1:15 The city of Mareshah (muh REE shuh), means “inheritance”, and this city would be possessed or inherited by the enemy. “The glory of Israel will enter Adullam”: David had taken refuge in various caves in this region (1 Samuel 22:1). Some feel that this verse means that the aristocracy in Israel would flee with their wealth into the caves in this part of the country in trying to find from the Assyrian army.
1:16 Even the children in these Judean towns would be exiled by the Assyrians. This would cause the people to mourn and one sign of mourning was to shave the head (Job 1:20). The expression, children of your delight, means, “your darling children”.
“The prophet should be a model for us. Far too often divine judgment is a doctrine we affirm rather than a reality we abhor. We have far too little of the prophet’s agony. He wailed over a people who had the Scriptures and their promises, who had known the works and deliverances of God and who were turning their back on it all….It is easy for us to bemoan the trend (of churches abandoning the Scriptures), to shake our heads, but few of us pour out a torrent of agony and despair before the One who has been rejected” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 37).
2:1 “Who work out evil on their beds”: God’s people had become so wicked that many of them actually laid awake at night thinking up evil things to do the next day. These were not people who were the victims of sudden temptation, rather they were people who deliberately and carefully planned new crimes. “For it is in the power of their hands”: They do it because they can. Here are people who justify their sins simply because they presently have the power to get away with injustice, the expression “might makes right” was their philosophy.
2:2 Even today there are people who are constantly trying to think up new ways to separate people from their money, homes, inheritances, etc….Note, one can covet the property of another by manipulating the laws of the land. A good number of modern lawsuits are nothing more than “legal covetousness”.
2:3 Yet God has His own plans for evil people. While their wicked schemes may prosper for a while, there is “Another” who also plans the well-deserved penalty for such heartless oppressors. This will be a calamity from which they cannot escape. “Money, influence, threats, and henchmen had helped them to extricate themselves out of many a noose about to tighten around their necks” (Laetsch p. 253). Yet not this time. No longer will they hold their heads high, in pride and defiance towards the laws of God. “They would suffer the same feeling of helplessness which they had brought on others” (Smith p. 299). The expression, an evil time, means that this will be a time of disaster and intense suffering.
2:4-5 Along with being unable to save themselves, they would be ridiculed by their enemies. In addition, the little people that they had wronged might also be the ones who are singing this song. Those who had taken land from others would suffer the loss of their own land being taken. “No longer would anyone be present to pass judgment about the division of the land, for their whole system would be destroyed” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1480). In verse five, the point is that certain families (those who had been greedy) would have no family representative left to stake their claim in any future land redistribution, such as happened after the captivity.
2:6 “Do not speak out”: Apparently the false prophets were indignant that Micah mentioned coming disaster, so they told him to be quiet. Ironically, the false prophets were guilty of the very thing they wanted Micah to stop, that is, speaking out! “So they, the opponents, tell the prophet, unaware that they are doing the identical thing for which they fault the prophet” (Laetsch p. 255). “They want to stifle his preaching of judgment, and they themselves wouldn’t be caught dead preaching such a negative message!” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 45). The same thing happens today. It is interesting to note that often people who want doctrine toned down or certain subjects avoided, spend a lot of time talking about those particular subjects.
2:7 “Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient?” It appears that the common view in Israel was that Micah’s preaching accused God of being impatient and angry and that it was argued that God would never punish His people. “So they ask, ‘Are those the kind of things we would expect from a God who has promised to make goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives? Will Yahweh’s from everlasting to everlasting mercy stead fast love throw us into the frying pan all of a sudden?” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 45). “Do not My words do good to the one walking uprightly?” Micah answered the false prophets by first noting that God’s blessings are conditional. God’s favor is linked with being obedient to His will. Judgment can be avoided only on the condition of repentance. The “benefits” of His covenant only come to those who are faithful! People who despise God’s word should not expect to receive His goodness (Jeremiah 7:5-15).
Micah found himself up against what we so often encounter today. “Well, I simply could not believe in a God who would punish people”. In Israel there was simply no “market” for Micah’s message. These people wanted to hear about the love of God, the comfort of God, the blessing of God—and yet did not want to serve Him.
While it is true that God rewards the upright (Acts 10:34-35), recent events indicated that the people of God were anything but upright. Their conduct had made them God’s enemy (James 4:4).
2:8 They had stripped the outer garment off their fellow man, either as an act of robbery or by forcing people to pawn their clothes to meet high interest payments. This crime was even committed against veterans who had just returned from risking their lives for the nation.
2:9 The women in this chapter who are being evicted from their homes might be widows (Exodus 22:22). In so doing, the greedy were depriving these children of growing up in a faithful nation, a nation blessed by God, a nation that was supposed to be the head and not the tail.
2:10 The people are told to leave the Promised Land, for it is no longer the “rest”, where they enjoyed God’s protection. Long ago God had warned the nation that as He had cast out the Canaanites because they had defiled the land (Leviticus 18:25), He would cast them out if they did the same thing.
An Unpopular Message
2:11 While the Israelites didn’t like Micah’s preaching, if a man walking after wind and falsehood (windbag) came along, they would embrace him and the lies which he spun. “I will speak out to you concerning wine and liquor”: Such false prophets did not speak about judgment, righteousness, and self-control, but rather they preached the theme of prosperity, success, and plenty of wine and liquor. What do we want to hear? (2 Timothy 4:2-4) “The prophet who will tell them the things they want to hear, speaking of prosperity, luxuries, and strong drink” (Hailey p. 200). “They love to hear the covenant promises, but not the covenant prescriptions; they like its comforts, but not its commandments” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 49).
2:12-13 God here interrupts His message of judgment with a word of hope and encouragement. Although this people will be cast out of their land, yet God will bring back a faithful portion from both Israel and Judah. God did bring the people back under the leadership of such men as Ezra and Nehemiah, but eventually God brought all His people into one fold through Jesus Christ (John 10:16; Ephesians 2:11ff). The breaker goes up before them, appears to be a reference to the Messiah. Jesus will break down the wall of sin and liberate His people from their bondage. “This glorious hope in the midst of a prophecy of judgment and doom is the prophet’s answer to his critics who would accuse him of preaching only adversity” (Hailey p. 201). I like the fact that the Messiah is called the “breaker” or the “smasher”. What Jesus brings will be unstoppable.
3:1 God addresses the leaders and rulers in both nations, Israel and Judah. They were inexcusable, for it was their job to understand and administer justice. They had the Scriptures, so they were sinning against the knowledge that they did possess. Instead of carrying out justice, they hated the good and loved doing evil. How about us, do we resent God’s moral standards? Inwardly, which do we prefer good or evil? What is the condition of our heart?
3:2-3 “In scathing language Micah describes their heartless cruelty in terms of cannibalism” (Laestch p. 259). Such people viewed others as simply victims to be skinned of money and property. Note the expression, my people; apparently the oppression was especially severe against the few Israelites who were trying to do what was right.
3:4 When judgment falls God will hide His face from the cries of these oppressors. They have destroyed others without mercy, and so without mercy will their destruction come. The Lord would no more listen to their appeals than they had listened to the widows and orphans who had cried out to them so many times before. “The term ‘cry out’ here is the technical term for appeal to a judge for help against oppression” (Smith p. 309).
The False Prophets
3:5 First, these false teachers caused people to forsake God. Secondly, they are here accused of selfish expediency. “One could purchase a tailor made oracle with promises to wine and dine the prophet” (Smith p. 310). The god they served was their own belly (Philippians 3:19). Third, their message was always one of peace, total well-being, convincing them that “everything will be all right!” No message of condemnation came from their lips, no call for repentance (Jeremiah 6:14). Such false prophets provided cover for the powerful who were exploiting others.
3:5 “But against him….”: They preached a very optimistic message, except towards those who challenged them. “Those who ooze love and liberality will often stop at nothing to silence the mouths of those who disagree with their viewpoint” (Smith p. 310). Laetsch notes, “In order to gain the favor and support of the people, they preach to them according to their itching ears, what these people wish to hear, Peace! Peace! There is no danger! You are God’s people! How can the Lord forsake His own? He is not a cruel God, as Micah tries to tell you” (p. 260).
The same thing is happening today. The best way to test someone’s message of unconditional acceptance is simply to question what he is teaching. Micah experienced what many faithful Christians are experiencing today, that is, false prophets offer unconditional grace for everyone except those who are trying to be sound in the faith.
3:6-7 I believe that God is here saying that when the nation finally falls, only then will such prophets be silenced. For then, all their messages will be seen to be for what they were, complete lies. Only then, will they be ashamed. The therefore brings an ominous tone. The judgment will bring silence and darkness for such false prophets. “The diviners will be embarrassed”: It appears that these false prophets had tried all sorts of illegitimate methods to discover God’s will, including the occult. God will not speak to them—not matter what they try.
3:8 On the other hand, Micah is an inspired man, filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). In addition, Micah isn’t a man driven by what the people want to hear, rather, he has inner conviction. He understood justice and had a great love for what was right. Finally, he was courageous, and he could not be intimidated by threats, nor bought with bribes. He boldly proclaimed the truth. This is why he must expose the sins being committed by God’s people. “This, incidentally, reminds us that character, and not merely gifts stamps a servant as genuine” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 65).
3:9 He proves his courage by again addressing the rulers and leaders, princes, priests, and false prophets among God’s people. These leaders had twisted all of God’s moral standards. In twisting what is right, they were consciously and deliberately disregarding God’s word. “Regardless of the justice of a case, they knew how to twist it around so that the innocent were condemned and the victims were further victimized” (Smith p. 312).
3:10 Jerusalem may have been the big city and the capital, but God isn’t impressed with her beautiful buildings. Yes, the city had been enlarged and had become prosperous, but the means to this end were evil. “The eighth century building boom in Judah rested upon the foundation of the sweat, toil, and even blood of the lower classes” (Smith p. 313).