Mic 1:1. The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
The word of the Lord that came to Micah – This stands over the entire book. ‘What is written in the Bible, and what is preached by the ministers of Christ according to what is written there, must be heard and received, not as the word of dying men, which we may be judges of, but as the word of the living God, which we must be judged by, for so it is.’ (MHC)
Davis bids us consider ‘the kindness and grace of having a God who speaks and is not silent.’ Micah was not like, and we should not be like, the pagan who prays to an unknown God, not knowing whether is favourably or unfavourably inclined towards him. Yahweh does not leave his people to walk in darkness. He sends them his word.
Calvin points out that Micah laboured for up to forty years. Yet we can sit down and read his book in less than one hour. Why do we spend so much time on trivial things, and neglect this and other parts of the word of God?
Micah prophesied during a period of great spiritual decline in the 8th century BC. The reigns of the three kings mentioned extended from 750-686 BC. We are not to suppose, of course, the Micah prophesied for this length of time.
Micah is mentioned in just one other place in the OT – Jer 26:17ff. Micah’s message was used by the supporters of Jeremiah as justification for that prophet’s message of judgement. This reminds us that people will hear cheerful and uplifting messages with gladness, but will often resent messages of warning and judgment.
Apart from that, we know little about Micah. He had little to say about himself. He would have had little patience with our tendency to create ‘megastars’ and gurus.
Moresheth was situated about 25 miles south-west of Jerusalem.
Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah – Only the relevant kings from the southern kingdom are mentioned. Micah did not care even to mention those from the north who had ‘usurped the Lord’s throne through assasinations; they set themselves up, but not by divine prophetic designation.’ (Waltke)
‘Ahaz was one of the worst of Judah’s kings, and Hezekiah one of the best; such variety of times pass over God’s ministers, times that frown and times that smile, to each of which they must study to accommodate themselves, and to arm themselves against the temptations of both.’ (MHC)
The vision he saw – Although what has come down to us from Micah consists entirely of words, it is not presented n the form of abstract concepts but rather in vivid word-pictures.
‘The prophecy of Micah was directed primarily toward Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital cities of the northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah). While Micah’s message was applicable to all the inhabitants of these kingdoms, he singled out the capitals because the leaders of these centers of influence were largely responsible for the social ills of that time.’ (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
This chapter consists of two oracles – the first against Samaria (Mic 1:2-7) and the second against Judah (Mic 1:8-16). V8 begins with ‘because of this this’, linking the two.
Mic 1:2 Hear, O peoples, all of you, listen, O earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign LORD may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.
‘Everyone and everything in the entire world is required to pay attention to these words. They may be concerned with one small area at one specific point in time, but they contain crucial lessons for all people at any time.’ (Prior)
‘Where God has a mouth to speak we must have an ear to hear.’ (MHC)
Prior points to a timeless principle: ‘What happens to the covenant people of God is a clarion call to everyone, in every nation at any period of history, to understand that God is a righteous king and judge, to whom everyone must give account and before whom everyone is liable to judgement.’
‘We find ourselves,’ says Davis, ‘in a cosmic courtroom’.
His holy temple is ‘his heavenly temple, of which the earthly temple is, we might say, a vastly scaled-down replica’. (Davis) He is the Lord of heaven and earth.
Judgment against Samaria and Jerusalem, 3-7
Mic 1:3 Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling-place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth.
Yahweh is both the witness who accuses, v2, and also the judge who comes (Davis). He is a God who is neither distance nor safe (v4).
The LORD is coming from his dwelling-place – He is coming a Warrior-Judge from his temple, the symbol of his true abode.
‘He had seemed to retire, as one regardless of what was done, but now he will show himself, he will rend the heavens, and will come down, not as sometimes, in surprising mercies, but in surprising judgments, to do things not for them, but against them, which they looked not for, Isa. 64:1; 26:21. 2.’ (MHC)
Behind the coming of the Assyrian army is the coming of the Lord himself.
The high places of the earth – since mountain-tops signified impregnabiity, the metaphor of treading on them suggests confidence and victory.
Mic 1:4 The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope.
The mountains were crucial for defence. But here they just melt away under the Lord’s feet.
This language may be symbolic and hyperbolic, but for a reason: ordinary language would have been inadequate. It is intended to make us tremble.
Mic 1:5 All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel. What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem?
Transgression – or ‘rebellion’. ‘Their entire behaviour was out of order – not just inappropriate, but cynical, ungrateful, “in your face” defiance…This behaviour was in deliberate disobedience to the covenant relationship between the Lord and his people. The language of these verses underlines the personal nature of this covenant. God and Israel are linked, but by a contract or by a series of contracts (“which are essentially beased on distrust”), but on a covenant which “is based on a I-Thou commitment to one another, which is coneived in love and brought forth through faith.”‘ (Prior, quoting Waltke)
Jacob refers to the northern kingdom, whose capital was Samaria. Judah, was, of course, the southern kingdom, with Jerusalem as its capital. Here are the guilty parties. The nation’s sin is not incidental and peripheral; it is systematic and centralised.
For Jerusalem to be referred to as Judah’s ‘high place’ was a terrible accusation. These high places were pagan shrines, associated with fertility rites and other practices.
‘Idolatry (“high places” in 1:5) was the main sin. The people insisted on worshiping “the works of their own hands” (5:13). But people do that today. We may not carve out statues and bow before them, but we certainly live for the things we have manufactured—cars, clothes, houses, money. What we serve and sacrifice for is the thing that we worship. Micah warned that the day would come when God would destroy the idols of the people and turn them to dust (1:6–7).’ (Wiersbe)
First Samaria and then Jerusalem had adopted a syncretistic approach to religion, where pagan gods were worshiped alongside Yahweh. Modern attempts to bracket false gods with the one true and living God fall under the same condemnation.
‘Dwellers in major modern cities will not be surprised at this condemnation of a nation’s capital, which seems inevitably to encapsulate a nation’s degeneration.’ But Jerusalem, of all cities, should have been a beacon and a bulwark of faithfulness.
The entire covenant people stands guilty. This is a body-blow in the light of vv2-4; those verses had presented God as judge of the whole world, a doctrine that Micah’s hearers would have accepted gladly. But not they hear that it is they who are on the receiving end of the message of doom. ‘All this is because of the rebellion of Jacob’. In a similar way, both Amos (Amos 1:3-2:16) and Zephaniah (Zeph 1:2-13) lulled their hearers into a false sense of security by preaching judgement first against ‘outsiders’ and only then to the ‘insiders’. All of these prophets preached clever, as well as faithful, messages.
‘The vices of leaders and rulers are leading ruling vices, and therefore shall be surely and sorely punished. Those have a great deal to answer for indeed that not only sin, but make Israel to sin. Those must expect to be made examples that have been examples of wickedness.’ (MHC)
Mic 1:6 “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations.
Accusation is followed by judgement.
Samaria sat on a hill, forty miles north of Jerusalem and twenty-five east of the Mediterranean. It was a prosperous place in the eighth century. But it had become paganised and corrupt to the core. ‘What Micah saw, and his audience did not, was that Samaria’s fall would be God’s doing: the Assyrian armies would merely be God’s instruments.’ (Craigie)
Samaria had been built as an imposing capital city. It would become a desolate piece of land, fit only for the planting of vineyards on its slopes. To begin the grasp the terror of this prospect, imagine one of our modern cities turned into a pile of rubble.
The fall of Samaria to the Assyrians took place in 722 BC. See Isa 10:11.
Mic 1:7 All her idols will be broken to pieces; all her temple gifts will be burned with fire; I will destroy all her images. Since she gathered her gifts from the wages of prostitutes, as the wages of prostitutes they will again be used.”
The pagan shrines were decorated in gold and silver. ‘When the Assyrians sacked Samaria, they were to strip the shrines of this wealth and turn it over the supporting their own cult practices.’ (Prior)
The prostitution here may be (a) literal: the money that paid the wages of prostitutes in the temple will not be used to hire prostitutes in the Assyrian capital, Nineveh; of (b) metaphorical, referring to idolatry, which is spiritual fornication. Either way, it is clear that the sin of God’s people is cultic as well as social. Israel’s civil (Mic 3:1-3) and religious leaders (Mic 2:6-11; 3:11) have rejected God’s ways.
‘It is common that what is squeezed out by one lust is squandered away upon another.’ (MHC)
In today’s pluralistic culture, we may think it good and right that everyone can make his or her choice about whom or what to worship. But God’s covenant people do not have a choice. They do not live in a democracy. The are captive to God, his commands and his service.
Prior comments that ‘the reference to prostitutes, whether in Samaria or Assyria…highlights the fundamental faithlessness of God’s people. Although betrothed to Yahweh and and committed to faithfulness towards him, they had long since run off after other gods. This spiritual adultery was reflected in physical immorality under the guise of religion.’
Prior suggests that many New Age beliefs and practices replicate these ancient superstitions. They place no moral obligations on their adherents, pander to human self-centredness, and constitute a rejection of the creator-God. See Rom 1:21-23. But spiritual adultery does not only consist in embracing paganism; it manifests more generally in love for this world and the things of this world, 1 Jn 2:15-17.
As Davis remarks, this passage (vv2-7) depicts the dark side of gospel truth. Micah’s hearers would have gladly accepted that God would come in judgment, but they would have been shocked at the thought of judgment coming upon them.
Weeping and mourning, 8-16
Mic 1:8 Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl.
In the second half of the chapter records reactions to God’s judgement. The first is that of the prophet, and the second that of a number of cities devastated by Sennacherib. ‘We have here a long train of mourners attending the funeral of a ruined kingdom.’ (MHC)
Micah decides to ‘go public’ (Prior) with his grief, and he gives us both the audio (“I will weep and wail”) and the visual (“I will go about barefoot and naked”).
I will weep and wail – This is no tub-thumping, finger-pointing preaching. This is heartfelt, though public, grief. Micah takes no delight in his message of doom. Like Jesus after him (Lk 19:41) he weeps as he pronounces judgment. Another Christlike attitude is that he does not weep for himself, but for others.
‘We ought to lament the punishments of sinners as well as the sufferings of saints in this world; the weeping prophet did so (Jer. 9:1); so did this prophet.’ (MHC)
I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl – For ‘owl’ possibly read ‘ostrich’, making this an even more unflattering self-description by Micah.
Mic 1:9 For her wound is incurable; it has come to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself.
Her wound is incurable – ‘It is ruin without remedy; man cannot help her; God will not, because she will not by repentance and reformation help herself. There is indeed balm in Gilead and a physician there; but they will not apply to the physician, nor apply the balm to themselves, and therefore the wound is incurable.’ (MHC)
‘The disease which had caused such trauma in Samaria was contagious. It could not be constrained. What had started in Samaria had spread to Jerusalem. This is the nature of the disease called sin. Nobody has a monopoly on sin, or a remedy for it. Nobody can escape its ravages.’ (Prior)
Mic 1:10 Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all. In Beth Ophrah roll in the dust.
In vv10-16 Micah shows that his message bring not only sadness to himself, but also misery to those to whom it is addressed.
As far as can be told, all the towns mentioned in vv10-15 lie within a 14km radius of Micah’s home town of Morasheth. The prophet’s laments are based on a series of puns on these various place-names. These puns suggest the symmetry between a wicked character and lifestyle and the ensuing punishment: ‘A nation that lives for pleasure will die through venereal diseases and drugs, and a nation that worships money will find itself bankrupt.’ (NBC)
Craigie communicates something of the original effect of Micah’s wordplay by using place-names from his native Scotland: ‘Crieff will know grief. Forfar will forfeit. Craill will be frail. Wick will be burned. Stornoway will be blown away. Edinburgh will be no Eden. For Tain there will only be pain.’
The various place-names mentioned in 10-16 lie along the probably route of Sennacherib’s army as he approached Jerusalem in 701BC.
Tell it not in Gath– ‘for the uncircumcised will triumph in Israel’s tears.’ (MHC)
This recollects David’s lament at the death of Saul, 2 Sam 1:20. Gath was a Philistine town, and its destruction is not in view here. Micah finds a resonance with this low-point in David’s life.
Beth Ophrah means ‘house of dust’.
Mic 1:11 Pass on in nakedness and shame, you who live in Shaphir. Those who live in Zaanan will not come out. Beth Ezel is in mourning; its protection is taken from you.
Shaphir means ‘beautiful’, ‘fair’.
Zaanan means ‘going forth’.
Beth Ezel means ‘nearby house’, and it may have stood protectively close to Jerusalem.
Mic 1:12 Those who live in Maroth writhe in pain, waiting for relief, because disaster has come from the LORD, even to the gate of Jerusalem.
Maroth means ‘bitter’.
Mic 1:13 You who live in Lachish, harness the team to the chariot. You were the beginning of sin to the Daughter of Zion, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you.
Lachish sounds like ‘to the steeds’. It was a key defence for Judah. If it had a brigade of horse-drawn chariots then it had the very latest in military technology available to it, for these were viewed as almost invincible. The people of Lachish probably felt impregnable But Lachish, too, was to fall to the Assyrians. Its technology could not protect it against the effects of its transgressions.
‘The latest technology, whether it be horses and chariots in the eighth century BC or horsepower and computers nearly three millenia later, can be a snare and delusion.’ (Prior) It can too easily make us feel omnicompetent.
Mic 1:14 Therefore you will give parting gifts to Moresheth Gath. The town of Aczib will prove deceptive to the kings of Israel.
Moresheth Gath may be related to the word for ‘betrothed’. The town once betrothed to Judah’s leaders as a dowry must now ben given by them in tribute to the enemy.
Aczib means ‘deception’.
Mic 1:15 I will bring a conqueror against you who live in Mareshah. He who is the glory of Israel will come to Adullam.
The first (Gath) and this last place-name in Micah’s list link with the two low-points in David’s life. Adullam was the site of the cave which David used when he fled from Saul. He had been joined there by a motley band of ne’re-do-wells (1 Sam 22:2). It is such a future that Micah predicts for Israel. ‘As Saul harassed and hounded David, so Sennacherib would hounds his descendants.’ (Prior) And yet even this tragic prospect is not without hope: for it was with this band of no-gooders that David started to build his renowned kingdom. Micah looks forward, however hesitantly, to the coming of ‘great David’s greater Son’. The first glimmer of this comes in Mic 2:13f.
Mic 1:16 Shave your heads in mourning for the children in whom you delight; make yourselves as bald as the vulture, for they will go from you into exile.
‘This section (vv.10–16) begins with words that recall David’s lament at the death of Saul and ends with the name of the cave where David hid from Saul. These dark moments in David’s life form a gloomy backdrop to the description of the fall of the towns Micah spoke of. Though he is never directly mentioned, the figure of a David bowed down by humiliation appears hauntingly in the tapestry of destruction. It is as if Micah saw in the fall of each town and the eventual captivity of the two kingdoms the final dissolution of the Davidic monarchy. Like David, the glory of Israel would come to Adullam.’ (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
The children in whom you delight…will go from you into exile – ‘What we bequeath to our children, in whom we often profess to delight, is the acid test of how seriously we are prepared to take the word of God. By their rebellious pride, Micah’s contemporaries were on the point of leaving their children a legacy of war, devastation and exile – realities which can be our legacy in spiritual terms as much as physically. We might well ask ourselves to what extent the conflicts, barrenness and rootlessness of so many children today are the result of parental transgression of God’s laws.’ (Prior)
Micah’s message is something of a model for us today. We either hold back from the sterner aspects of God’s truth, or else we speak of those aspects with cool detachment. We need both his faithfulness and his passion.