THE OPENING LINES OF MICAH 1 show that this prophet served in the second half of the eighth century B.C. Initially, mighty Assyria was dormant, and the twin kingdoms of Israel and Judah flourished. Israel expanded its territory under Jeroboam II. This book records the vision that Micah saw “concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (the two capital cities, Micah 1:1). The first oracle was clearly delivered before either capital had fallen. Later in the book Samaria has fallen (722 B.C.) and Jerusalem itself, in the time of King Hezekiah, is under threat. Although Judah was overrun by the Assyrians in 701, Jerusalem itself was miraculously spared. Micah, from Moresheth Gath (a farming village southwest of Jerusalem), is called to prophesy in Judah, much as Amos was called to prophesy in Israel.
Throughout much of Micah’s ministry, Judah was prosperous. The money was invested in land, with the result that a few rich and powerful operators bought up huge tracts, destroying the system of agricultural small holdings mandated by the covenant (Micah 2:2; Isa. 5:8 inveighs against the same corruption). But issues of justice and social responsibility were not high on anyone’s agenda. Coming as he did from the fertile lowlands, Micah doubtless saw firsthand how ordinary people were being crushed; he was providentially prepared to utter the prophetic word of God’s own indignation. He attacks the rising selfishness and the widespread abandonment of the standards of God’s law, as he depicts Judah on the brink of catastrophic judgment. Writing a century or so later, Jeremiah records a fascinating report of Micah’s ministry (Jer. 26:18-19); it is probably not too fanciful to conclude that Hezekiah’s initial and powerful reformation owed a great deal to Micah’s preaching.
Above all Micah is shocked at the perversion of true religion (Micah 2:6-9). Israel’s election has come to be equated with triumphalist theology (Micah 3:11); God himself has been reduced to a grandfatherly protector of a pampered people. Micah therefore warns the people of the implications of covenantal disloyalty (Micah 6:14-15). Already in chapter 1 he makes it clear that God must punish his people if they continue in their sin: “All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). Where is the locus of such sin? In the capital cities themselves (Micah 1:5b). The odious corruption and faithlessness have worked down from the top.
These driving themes have two critical bearings on us. First, they demand that we become passionate about righteousness and covenantal faithfulness in our own day. Second, they set the stage for Micah’s vision of a promised redeemer (e.g., Micah 5:2).