Micah the Prophet

MICAH THE PROPHET mī’ ca (מִיכָה, LXX Μιχαίας, Vul. Michaeas, Who is like Yahweh.) Author of the book which stands sixth among the minor prophets in the Eng. VSS and in “the book of the twelve prophets” of the Heb. text, but which stands third in the LXX. The book is mentioned by Ben Sirach (Ecclus 48:10) in a way that attests its early acceptance as part of sacred Scripture.

Background.

The prophet Micah ministered during the reigns of Jotham (742-735 b.c.), Ahaz (735-715), and Hezekiah (715-687) (cf. Jer 26:18). Since Micah 6 is addressed to “Israel” and ch. 1 speaks of the downfall of Samaria, his career evidently began sometime before 722 b.c. The great world power and constant threat to the security of the Hebrews was Assyria, ruled by Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), Shalmaneser V (727-722), Sargon II (722-705), and Sennacherib (705-681). During the early part of Micah’s life the Syro-Ephraimitic war between Judah on the one side and the coalition of Israel and Syria on the other was waged. Part of the reason for the war was the refusal of Ahaz to join the alliance against Tiglath-pileser. Micah saw the defeat of the northern kingdom and fall of Samaria to Assyria in 722/721. The close of his ministry prob. came before the invasion of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13ff.) who besieged Jerusalem in 701, a siege which occasioned the construction of the Siloam tunnel. Micah lived on the border between Judah and a “no-man’s land” contested by Egypt, Assyria, and the Philistines. The latter’s uprisings against Assyria in the period 721-711 were in full view. The incursions of Sargon II into the area between 715 and 711 may be referred to in Micah 1:10-16. By paying tribute to the Assyrians, Ahaz had maintained an uneasy peace. During Uzziah’s long reign (ending in 742) and following, there was a period of comparative economic prosperity, occasioned in part by Judean control of an overland trade route to the port of Elath (cf. 2 Kings 14:7). This prosperity concentrated wealth and its concomitant power in the hands of a few and brought with it social injustices which the prophet castigated.

It seems likely that the religious reforms instituted by King Hezekiah must have taken place near the end of Micah’s recorded ministry, or that the reforms affected only the cult and had little impact upon the personal and social lives of the Judeans.

Unity.



Authorship.

The prophet Micah was a native of Moresheth (1:1), perhaps identical with Moresheth-Gath (a dependency of Gath, cf. LXX Κληρονομίας Γὲθ 1:14). Some have equated it with the ancient Gr. place name, Marissa. The site is located in the area about Beit Jibrin, about twenty-five m. SW of Jerusalem. Jerome located it just E of Jibrin; others have located it at Tell el-Judeideh (cf. Kraeling, Rand-McNally Bible Atlas, p. 301), or at Tell el Menshiyeh, six and one-half m. W of Beit Jibrin (cf. Leslie, IDB, III, p. 369). Moresheth is mentioned in Joshua 15:44; 2 Chronicles 11:8; 14:9, 10; 20:37. Its location made it a frontier outpost, with military movements easily observable in the area. The Assyrians marched through in 734, 711 and 701, and met the Egyptians at nearby Raphia in 719. Hence, Micah’s outlook was not that of an isolationist, but of one vitally concerned about his nation’s foreign affairs. As a native of the Shephelah he felt keenly the plight of poor country people.

Micah was a man of courage, conviction, and rare personal faith. His attributes have been summed up as follows: “Strict morality, unbending devotion to justice both in law and in action, sympathy with the poor, these are Micah’s characteristics” (W. Nowack, Die Kleinen Propheten, p. 254). His main concern was the social injustice prevalent in his day. Such injustice, however, could be removed only by a religious revival. If men do not return to the Lord, there will be a visitation of God’s avengers. Final hope is offered in the coming of the Messiah from Bethlehem.

Date.

Scholars disagree as to the exact dates of Micah’s ministry. In 1:1 he prophesied “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Other than the general information of 1:1 (which some hold to be a later addition by a postexilic editor), the evidence is scanty and inferential. The content of ch. 6 would seem to indicate a date before 722 for that oracle. Jeremiah’s quotation of ch. 3 (Jer 26:18, 19) would date that section during Hezekiah’s reign. Micah’s description of the prevailing corruption and immorality would fit conditions in the reign of Ahaz (735-715). It seems likely that the bulk of his recorded prophetic oracles were uttered in the period 725-710. Unless Hezekiah’s reforms left social conditions untouched, his ministry must be placed before that revival. He prophesied against both the northern and southern kingdoms, but was chiefly concerned with the latter.

The occasion and purpose.

Stemming from the poorer class, Micah was acutely aware of the injustices and avarice of the rich. While he was interested in the political affairs of his nation, it was only as they were connected with the religious and moral situation that Micah spoke to them. His message can be epitomized in his own words: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (3:8). It is because of the sins of His people that God sends the Assyrians as His scourge. God’s punishment is to be followed by a period of unparalleled blessing connected with the coming of the Messiah. For Micah, faith in Yahweh must issue in social justice and personal holiness because Yahweh is righteous and sovereign. The refusal of Ahaz to seek a sign (Isa 7:12) and Hezekiah’s payment of tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 18:14-16) are examples of the lack of faith in Yahweh’s protection on the part of the kings, a lack also evident among the commoners. Micah set forth God’s complaint against His people (cf. ch. 6) and announced certain punishment. However, God’s mercy will finally prevail (cf. ch. 7).

Text.

The Heb. text of Micah seems to be quite well-preserved as a comparison with the LXX shows. The VSS (esp. the LXX) are helpful in correcting Masoretic errors in vocalization.

Special problems.

Three special problems stand out in the study of the Book of Micah. First, because of the abrupt transition, many scholars think 2:12, 13 is out of place, or is an interpolation. Among the explanations offered are the following: (a) These are the words of false prophets of hope (Ibn Ezra, Michaelis), or a marginal note by Micah or someone else giving the teaching of the false prophets (Ewald), or an interruption of Micah by a false prophet (Van Orelli). However, it would seem unique for a false prophet to admit the Exile— they were prophets of false hopes. (b) The passage is a late, postexilic composition (so Smith, ICC, p. 67). (c) The passage is genuine and belongs in the context. (d) It continues the threat of v. 10, i.e., Jacob is assembled for punishment (Kimchi, Ephraim Syrus, Theodoret, Calvin, Van Hoonaker). (e) The passage is genuine but out of place (Van Ryssel, Koenig, Driver). The simplest explanation seems to be that the passage is Micah’s quotation of a false prophet who may be speaking of the remnant left by the Assyrians after 722.

The second problem is that of the relationship of the oracle found in 4:1-3 to the identical passage in Isaiah 2:2-4. Most older scholars felt that Micah had borrowed from Isaiah. There is enough difference in the context and in the extent of the oracle to argue that both prophets made use of a “floating oracle” by an earlier prophet of hope. In Micah the oracle fits the context better than in Isaiah.

The third problem is the occurrence of the word “Babylon” in 4:10. Those who deny the predictive element in prophecy explain the passage either as coming from a late date (after 605 when Nebuchadnezzar’s power was evident), or as a metonymy with “Babylon” standing for Assyria.

Content and outline.

Most scholars divide Micah into three major sections:

(1) Yahweh’s judgment on Israel and Judah (chs. 1-3).

(2) The vision of a glorious future (chs. 4, 5).


One feature of the content of Micah is the long passage in 1:10-16 which is replete with typical Heb. paronamasia. Best attempts at rendering these paronomasiae into Eng. are found in Farrar’s Minor Prophets, Moffatt’s New Translation of the Bible, and L. Smith, INT, VI.

The preaching of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah is summarized in the famous saying of Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Amos was the prophet of justice (Amos 5:24), Hosea spoke of God’s unfailing mercy (חֶ֥סֶד) (Hos 6:6), while Isaiah called upon his people to live in communion with Yahweh (Isa 6:5).

Probably the most outstanding example of the so-called rib or lawsuit oracle is found in Micah 6:1-8. The rib pattern may be based on the formal features of human covenants. Heaven and earth are called to witness (Deut 32:1, 5; Ps 50:4; Isa 1:2; Ezek 6:2f.).

Among the predictive passages in Micah are 1:3-5; 3:12, both foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and 4:10 promising the rescue of God’s people from Babylon. The passage in 5:2 promising the ruler to come from Bethlehem should perhaps be interpreted as referring to the dynasty of David rather than to a geographical location.

Bibliography

J. Calvin, Minor Prophets, IV (1557, reprinted 1950), 149-409; F. Farrar, “Micah,” Men of the Bible: The Minor Prophets (1882), 125-140; G. A. Smith, “Micah,” The Book of the Twelve Prophets (ExB), I (1896, reprinted 1949), 530-549; J. M. P. Smith, “Micah,” A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel (ICC) (1911), 5-156; G. L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets (1926, reprinted 1952), 94-106; B. Copass and E. C. Carlson, A Study of the Prophet Micah (1950); L. Smith, “The Book of Micah,” INT, VI (1952), 210-227; A. Frazer and L. E. H. Stephens-Hodge, “Micah,” The New Bible Commentary (1953), 720-726; T. Laetsch, “Micah,” The Minor Prophets (1956), 245-292; N. Snaith, Amos, Hosea, and Micah (1956), 83-111; R. Wolfe, “The Book of Micah” (Introduction and Exegesis), IB, VI (1956), 897-949; G. Archer, SOTI (1964), 311-313.