The Theological Message of Micah

Note: Articles classified as essays may be long, advanced, or esoteric.

The 8th century prophet Micah (c. 740-690 B.C.) was a contempo­rary of Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. His proclamation of God’s word spanned two nations and the reigns of at least four kings (Israel: Hoshea; Judah: Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah). In the wake of the political and economic resurgence engi­neered by Jeroboam II and Uzziah, Micah began his recorded ministry prophesying the immi­nent destruction of Samaria (1:6-8). He ministered to Judah in its years of decline (Jotham) and at its spiritual nadir (Ahaz), and he was partially responsible for its revival under Hezekiah (Jer. 26:18-19).  The end of his ministry found him prophesying the Baby­lo­nian exile of Judah (4:10). The book of Micah is a collection or synopsis of various prophecies of judgment and restoration scattered across the years of his minis­try.  Under inspira­tion, Micah artfully links them to communicate his central theme: God’s covenants with Israel demand judgment because of her sins and guar­antee restoration because of His faithfulness (חֶסֶד).

I. God as the Author of Judgment and Restoration

There are two distinct, yet intimately connected, elements that form the ground of Micah’s presentation of God as the author of judgment and restora­tion: His character and His covenants.

A. His Character

The very existence of Micah as a prophetic writing witnesses to God’s character as a communicator.  While revelation is not an explicit theme of Micah, the truth that God reveals himself is a clear implica­tion of Micah’s frequent references to God speaking (1:1-3; 2:3; 3:5; 4:2; 6:1, 8). God re­veals himself in His sovereignty as the “Lord of all the earth” (4:13), to whom all the nations will someday submit (7:16-17).  The repeated emphasis throughout the book on justice and judgment reveals God’s right­eous character (7:9; cf. 2:7; 3:1, 8-9; 6:1-8; 7:2, 4). Parallel to God’s right­eousness is His holiness (1:2), and these two at­tributes together form the basis of His wrath and judgment upon sin (1:3-4; 5:15; 7:9, 18). In har­mony with God’s righteous character, Micah reveals Him as a witness against His people (1:2), a prosecuting attorney (6:1-8), and a judge (6:9-16). Balancing God’s wrath is His mercy (7:18) which pardons sin, forgives rebellion, and causes Him not to retain His wrath forever (7:19). The totality of God’s attributes establishes Him as absolutely incompa­rable­ (7:18).

B. His Covenants

The prominent use of God’s unique name (Yahweh–occurs 40 times) em­pha­sizes God’s character as covenant-keeping God (Exo. 34:6-7; Dan. 9:4). God’s faithfulness (אֱמֶת) and loyalty (חֶסֶד) are explicitly affirmed in 7:20, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and loyal to Abraham as you swore to our fathers from days of old.” This very loyalty to His covenants, which He had repeatedly demonstrated to Israel (6:4-5), moves God to judge Israel for their disloyalty (6:1-8), while at the same time guarantees the resto­ration of His favor to the remnant (7:18-20).

II. Judgment as the Divine Response to Sin

A. The Cause of Divine Judgment — Sin

  1. The sin of the people — Micah pictures Israel’s sin as a disease, communicable and incurable. The open wound of Samaria has in­fected Jerusalem and she too is doomed (1:9). Micah deals with the sins of the people first. They had forsaken justice—they plotted wick­edness (2:1), defrauded men and women of their fields and homes (2:2, 9), robbed “tourists” (“those passing by”–2:8), were dishonest in business (6:10, 12) and in their relationships (7:5-6), and were vio­lent (6:12).  They had forsaken loyalty to Yahweh—they walked ac­cording to the statutes of Omri and Ahab (6:16), who sold himself to do evil (1 Kgs. 21:20) and led all Israel into abominable idolatry, occult practices, and sorcery (2 Kgs. 17:17; Mic. 1:5, 7; 5:13-14). The people’s questions concerning God’s requirements for acceptance re­veal how far they had strayed from loyalty to Yahweh. They offer their best (“yearling calves”; 6:6), intensify their offering (“thousands of rams and 10,000 rivers of oil”; 6:7a), and then offer to sacrifice their children to appease God’s wrath (6:7b).  They had forsaken humility and had become haughty (2:3). Every characteristic of true religion was lacking in Israel (6:8).
  2. The sin of the leadership — Rarely do a people rise higher than their spiritual leaders, and Israel was no exception. The people were corrupt, for their leaders were corrupt. Their prophets led them astray (3:5), prophesying prosperity (2:11; 3:5 [שָׁלֵ֔ם]) to those who pleased them, and “declar[ing] holy war”(NAS) on those who did not (3:5). They used Yahweh’s name for support, and claimed His pres­ence, while practicing sin (3:11). All the leaders—priests, judges, rul­ers, and prophets—were motivated by greed (3:11), and bribery was rampant (7:3). Micah indicts them as haters of good and lovers of evil (3:1), who make mincemeat of God’s people (3:2-3), who “abhor jus­tice and twist everything that is straight” (3:9 NAS), and who further their own causes through murder (3:10).

B. The Pronouncement of Divine Judgment

God’s divine judgment upon Samaria, annihilating her idolatrous riches and making it a heap of ruins, a place for planting vines (1:6-7), was in­tended to dissuade Judah from her persistence in sin. This failing, God arraigns Israel before the mountains to defend herself (6:1) and presents His case in heart-broken tones—“My people, what have I done to you?” (6:2-5). Israel has no defense; therefore God hands down the verdict: Ju­dah will be rejected by God (3:4, 5:3), plundered by enemies (2:4-5; 6:14), starved (6:14-15), shamed (6:16), defeated (5:1-2), destroyed (2:10; 6:13, 16), and exiled (1:16, 2:10; 4:10). God shames the false prophets by refus­ing to answer them when they turn to Him in desperation (3:4, 6-7). Though the text of 6:9 is somewhat obscure, it highlights the purpose of divine judgment: “The voice of Yahweh will call to the city — and to take heed to your name is wisdom — Heed the rod and He who appointed it.” Yahweh’s goal is not mere mourning, but it is for “His people to be ac­quainted with His ways and to learn obedience through their discipline” (Gephart, 246). In this connection, it is noteworthy that not one time does Micah issue an explicit call for repentance; it is left as the as­sumed response to God’s pronouncement of judgment.

C. The Response to Divine Judgment

Two responses to God’s verdict are recorded. In both responses Micah speaks as a representative for the nation. (This accounts for the use of the first person singular, while recognizing the generic nature of the language being used.) The first response is one of lamentation, sorrow, and anguish at their misfortune (1:8-16; 7:1). Micah pictures Israel’s agony as that of a woman writhing in the grip of labor pains (4:9-10).  The second response is one of recognition of guilt (7:9a), acknowledgment of the righteousness of the punishment (7:9b), and trust and hope in Yahweh’s ultimate justice and mercy (7:10- 13). This hope is based in Yahweh’s historic faithfulness to His covenantal promises (7:19-20).

III. Restoration as Divine Faithfulness to Covenantal Promises

Micah’s message of future restoration provides the Israelites a ballast of hope in their storm of judgment—without it they would capsize in despair (7:7). Ultimately founded in Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham, this promised resto­ration involves the remnant, a restored kingdom, and the Messiah.

A. The Remnant

Pardoned from their iniquity and rebellion (7:18) with all traces of their sin removed (7:19), in “that day” Yahweh gathers the remnant from the nations (2:12; 4:6), purges them from all sources of false trust, whether fortifications (5:10-11) or idols (5:12-14), and reconstitutes them as a strong nation (4:7). While less than the totality of Israel, nonetheless the remnant is numerically large (2:13–“the place will throng with people” NIV). In the process of restoration, The concept of a remnant, while forshadowed in the Noah and Joseph narratives, first appears in the Elijah narratives where God reveals His ongoing preservation of a godly remnant (1 Kgs. 19:18). the remnant becomes an inexorable force in the world moving toward total world domination (4:11-13).

B. The Restored Kingdom

With the return of the remnant to the promised land, an ever­lasting kingdom of global prominence will be established in Jerusalem (4:1, 7; 7:12, 16-17). It will function as the center of worship, religious instruction, and juris­prudence for the whole world (4:2). Through its influence there will be true world peace and economic prosperity, all wars will cease, and standing armies will be disbanded (4:3-4).

C. The Redeemer

The central figure is this anticipated restoration is a personal redeemer. Micah presents the Messiah as one coming from eternity (5:2b) who will be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah (5:2a).  He is strong, majestic, and great (5:4). He is himself the peace of His people (5:5; cf. Isa. 53:5), and will bring peace to the world (4:1-5). In contrast to Isaiah’s suffering servant, in Micah, the Messiah is the “Breaker” who leads his people from captiv­ity (2:13), the Conqueror who subdues the enemies of Israel (7:16-17), the Shepherd who pastures his flock in abundance (2:12; 5:4; 7:14), the divine King who rules his people (2:13–note that the “king” and Yahweh are the same person; 4:7; 5:2, 4; 7:14) and the world (4:1-5; 5:4), and the Judge of all the earth (4:3). The Messiah is the link in Micah’s message between the world at large (1:2) and the Abrahamic covenant (7:20), for it is in Him that all the nations of the earth are blessed.

Conclusion

The twin themes of judgment and restoration, repeated throughout the book, open and close Micah’s written mate­rial in two nested inclusios. Micah opens his message to the Jewish nations with a revelation of Yahweh’s wrath against sin as He rises from His throne and with fiery tread levels the moun­tains in his approach to judge Israel and Judah (1:3-5).  In contrast, Micah con­cludes his message, revealing Yahweh’s incomparability as a God who does not re­tain His wrath forever, but delights in showing mercy (7:18-19). The second inclusio brack­ets the totality of Micah’s prophecy.  Micah opens by summoning the whole earth to hear the witness of Yahweh against it (1:2).  This witness begins with a re­counting of Micah’s prophetic announcement of Samaria’s destruction. This prophecy, now become history, functions as God’s guarantee of the cer­tain judgment coming upon Israel and the nations. In beautiful contrast, Micah closes his message offering the unshakable hope of restoration for Israel and the world from God’s covenantal promise to Abraham—“In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (7:20).  Thus Micah’s message is a proclamation of the gospel to the world — there is certain judgment and wrath coming upon sinners, but there is hope for salvation through the person of the Shepherd King from Bethlehem whose “goings out” have been from eternity. It is no wonder that Micah exults, “Who is a God like you!” (7:18).

 


 

SOURCES
  1. ZPEB, ISBE, ISBE2, NIDOTTE, IDB, EBC, NICOT, K&D,
  2. Oehler, Vos, Fein­berg, J., Continuity and Discontinuity, 263-307;
  3. Hasel, The Remnant;
  4. Waltke, Micah in The Minor Prophets;
  5. Bell, BV 28 (1994): 55-58;
  6. Barrett, idem., 41-49; Gephart (1976 diss.)