The book of Micah has played a valuable role both inside and outside the community of faith. The committee responsible for decorating the Library of Congress chose, in competition with all religious literature, Micah 6:8 as the finest expression of true religion. This prophetic writing, however brief, is worth of careful reading, investigation, and application.
The book’s heading (1:1) gives us essential information: the author (“Micah”), his inspiration (“what he saw”), his place in salvation history (in the days of “kings of Judah”), and his subject matter (“Samaria and Jerusalem”).
Micah identifies his book’s genre as “the word (Heb. da-bar, an “expression of a complete thought”) of the LORD.” He defines this “word” as “what he saw.” Like all true prophets he “stood in the council of the LORD to see or hear his word” (cf. Jer 23:18) and served as God’s messenger of that word to Israel (cf. 1Kgs 22; Isa 6:1–10; see Mic 3:8). The singular “word” in Micah 1:1 was spoken over a period of about half a century, and a precursory glance of the book’s content shows it is comprised of many isolated oracles. So, the whole book of Micah, with its about twenty oracles, is “the word of the LORD.” A Spirit-inspired Micah collected these oracles and arranged them logically, not chronologically. God’s people recognized his book as inspired and so it became part of the canon that the Church hears today. He never names a contemporary person, such as Hezekiah; his prophecy, therefore, lends itself to universal application.
How Does the Poetic Form of Micah Function?
The LORD makes himself known to prophets in visions, and so, like dreams, they are riddles that need interpretation (Num 12:6, 8). Prophets are poets, who speak tersely, figuratively, and in a sustained rhythm. That rhythm in Hebrew poetry is shaped as parallel lines—that is to say, a second “verset” intensifies, expands or escalates what is said in the first verset.
Who Is Micah?
Micah means “who is a God like you?” (see the pun on his name in Mic 7:18). He hails from Moresheth, near the Philistine city of Gath, c. 20 miles or 32 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. He is filled with power
by the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and courage, to proclaim to Jacob his rebellion and to Israel his sin (Mic 3:8). His sign of the Spirit’s filling is a zeal for justice. He is also a man of faith. While holed up in Jerusalem during Sennacherib’s siege, he commands the faithful (“slash yourself in grief”), and in his misery, he confesses: “But I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation.” He is a man of prayer (“my God will hear me,” 7:7).
What Is the Historical Background of Micah’s Prophecy?
Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham (742–735 BC), Ahaz (735–715 BC), and Hezekiah (715–686 BC). He does not mention the contemporary northern kings for two probable reasons: they usurped the throne without God’s consent (Hos 8:4), and Micah principally addresses Jerusalem, using the sins and destruction of Samaria as an exemplar (see Mic 1:9).
During the second half of the eighth century ruthless Assyrian kings invaded Israel and then Judah. Tiglath Pileser III (745–727 BC) began Israel’s exile; Shalmaneser V (727–722 BC) and Sargon (721–705 BC) captured Samaria, and Sargon invaded Judah in 720, 716, 713 and 712 BC. Sennacherib (705–681 BC) in 701 BC conquered all of Judah, except for Jerusalem, which God spared by a miraculous intervention in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (cf. Isa 36–37). Sennacherib boasted: “As for Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities. . . . Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem . . . like a bird in a cage.”1 The miraculous survival of a remnant within the besieged city served as an earnest that ultimately they would become a great nation (see Mic 4–5).
How Is the Book of Micah Structured?
The book of Micah is composed of many separate oracles. The book is like a preacher’s file of sermons but lacks file folders—the oracles lack headings, unlike the psalms. So the oracles must be isolated both by their form (i.e., mood, language, semantics, and motifs) and their rhetoric. Broadly speaking, the oracles come in two genres: oracles of doom/threat/judgment and oracles of salvation. Doom oracles typically contain three motifs: a summons to hear, an accusation, and a sentence of judgment (cf. Mic 1:6–7).2 They are intended to lead the addressee to contrition (cf. Jer 18:1–10). Salvation oracles, although they lack a consistent pattern, share a common form and are unified by their rhetoric.
Micah himself—if we may judge by the editorial notice “Then I said” in Micah 3:1—collected and arranged his oracles into three cycles: chapters 1–2, 3–5, and 6–7. Each cycle begins with oracles of doom and is drawn to a conclusion with one or more oracles of salvation.3
What Is the Primary Message of Micah?
Prophets interpret Israel’s history according to the covenants God made with Israel. Micah’s accusations are informed by Israel’s transgressions of the Mosaic Covenant, and the LORD’s judicial sentences are informed by the covenant curses. For example, the LORD accuses rich Jerusalemites of gaining treasures by wickedness (Mic 6:9), contrary to the command, “you shall not steal,” and so hands down the sentence: what you save I will give to the sword (Mic 6:14), fulfilling the curse in Deuteronomy 28:51. Salvation oracles are based on God’s unconditional covenants with Abraham that his seed would become a universal righteous kingdom and his covenant with David that his dynasty would endure forever (see Mic 7:20). The fulfillment of a prophecy is contingent on the addressee’s response; God’s unconditional covenants are certain to be realized.4 Salvation, not judgment, has the last word. Micah teaches us that God is just, but his mercy is greater.
Salvation, not judgment, has the last word. Micah teaches us that God is just, but his mercy is greater.
How Should Readers Interpret Micah’s Salvation Oracles?
Two caveats must be born in mind when interpreting these salvation oracles. Firstly, the prophet’s visions and dreams are informed by his culture. For example, Israel’s final triumph is envisioned as her triumph over Assyria, Israel’s nemesis during Micah’s lifetime (Mic 5:6). Secondly, the prophet sees future events synchronically—near events in salvation history merge into the final triumph of the kingdom of God. So, the birth of Messiah in Micah 5:2 is joined immediately with his universal reign in Micah 5:4–6.
Micah writes with a zeal for justice and powerful poetry to nerve God’s people to fidelity in their covenant relationship with God, to add substance to their understanding of that covenant, and to add ardor to their virtue and conviction to their confession.
“Mankind, he has told each of you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.”
— Micah 6:8 CSB
First Cycle: Oracles of Doom (1:1–2:11)
A Punitive Epiphany against Samaria (1:1–7)
Micah delivered this oracle sentencing Samaria to destruction before its capture in 722. God kept his word, prefiguring the final judgment that awaits all impenitent sinners. The oracle contains the typical motifs of a doom oracle, but it uniquely inserts between the motifs of summons and accusation a vision of a punitive epiphany that vividly pictures the accusation and judicial sentence (1:3–4).
1:1–2 Our prophet summons “all you peoples” to “pay attention” of idolatrous Israel’s doom. Behind the immediate cause, to wit, an Assyrian invasion, he sees the Ultimate Cause: an angry God. Ironically, the nation chosen to be a light to the nations becomes the exemplar of just punishment. Also, ironically, whereas at the beginning of Israel the Canaanites served as a warning to Israel (cf. Lev 18:28), now Israel’s destruction serves as a warning to the impenitent of all nations of their ultimate judgment (1Tim 1:9–11). The Creator plainly revealed himself in creation, but all peoples refuse to glorify him; instead, they seek their significance and security in idols such as money (Rom 1:18–32). Kicking against the conscience the Creator gave them, they disobey his law (Rom 2:12–15).
1:3–5 Having called us to “pay attention,” he cries out “Look!” and see “the LORD is leaving his place” and “coming down to trample the heights of the earth”, where the impenitent worship their worthless gods. He descends with such fiery heat of anger that “mountains melt” beneath him, as in a volcanic eruption. The Sovereign treads the earth with such a heavy tread that valleys split apart, while rocks pour down the mountains as in a mudslide. This horrific convulsion of all that seems so stable is due to “the sins of the house of Israel.” For this upheaval, Micah places the blame on Samaria and Jerusalem, a metonymy for the corrupt leadership of both nations (see Mic 3).
1:6–7 God himself now gives the judicial verdict. “I will make Samaria a heap of ruins.” The catchword nagar (rendered “cascading down” in 1:4 and “roll” in 1:6) shows the punitive epiphany functions as a metaphor for the LORD’s sentence. The judicial sentence also includes the destruction of her idols that were covered with silver and gold: “since she collected the wages of a prostitute.” Now the enemy will plunder that silver and gold, and ironically as the wages of prostitutes, it will again be used in the worship of their worthless idols. By censoring idolatry in his first oracle, a transgression of the first two commandments (Exod 20:3–5), Micah implies that idolatry is the root of Israel’s rotten fruit.
A Lament over Judah (1:8–16)
Micah now predicts the doom of Judah. After a transition (1:8–9), his dirge consists of an ironic introduction to silence (1:10a); a main body, to wit, a nomen est omen—that is to say, a play on the meaning and/or sounds of the names that portend their doom (1:10b–15a). A climatic conclusion calls on the House of David to mourn as it goes into exile (1:15b–16). In the first half of the body Micah addresses the doomed cities (1:11–13). In the second half and in the conclusion, the LORD addresses the Daughter5 of Zion. The accusation motif is found in the transition, “because of this,” namely, the sin and doom of Samaria (1:8); and in the doom of Lachish, “this was the beginning of sin for Daughter Zion” (1:13).
1:8–9 Micah’s editorial suture, “because of this,” binds the destruction of Samaria with Judah’s similar fate. But there is a striking contrast. Whereas the implied enemy ravaged Samaria, the enemy reaches only to the gates of Jerusalem (cf. 2Kgs 19). According to Sennacherib’s Annals, he oddly boasted that he shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage,” not that he captured Jerusalem, the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy in this text.
Micah fashions this doom oracle as a funeral dirge: “I will weep and wail.” He goes about barefoot and naked, both to ventilate his grief (cf. Gen 50:10) and to identify himself with Judah’s exile (cf. 1:11a). Assyrian reliefs show Judah’s exiles as naked.
1:10–16 His ironic summons to silence repeats David’s eulogy of King Saul: “Tell it not in Gath . . . or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, and the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate” (2Sam 1:20). Schadenfreude (Ger. “pleasure over another’s misfortune”) over Judah’s fall and the exile of God’s chosen people and of the House of David misinterprets history, celebrates tyranny, and rejoices in human misery. At the heart of the dirge are the gates of Jerusalem. In sum, the dirge mentions twelve cities of Judah. Aside from Jerusalem, all the cities form a circle with a radius of 14 kilometers or 9 miles around Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-Gath. Gath and Adullam, which frame the nine doomed cities, reprise David’s career as an ironic contrast between his deliverance and his descendants’ exile (1:16). The LORD is the Agent of the destruction of the nine doomed cities and of the royals’ exile (1:12, 15).
Here is a chart of the cities with their identification and of their nomen est omen significance:
|Gath||Tell es Safi|
|Beth Ophrah||?||House of Dust|
|Saphir||Khirbet el-Kom / Tell Eitun?||Beauty|
|Beth Ezel||Deir el-Asalu||Take Away|
|Lachish||Tell ed-Duweir||Sounds like rekesh, “Fast Horses”|
|Adullam||Khirbet esh-Sheikh Madkur|
Replacing the proper names of the doomed cities with their meanings, one hears the following in rapid succession:
- “Dust City” will roll in dust, the symbol of abject humiliation (cf. Gen 3:14; Jer 6:26; Ezek 24:17a).
- “Beauty City” will go into exile naked and in shame.
- Cowardly “Going Forth City” will not come out from behind its walls to boldly confront the enemy.
- “Take Away City” no longer protects the cowardly city.
- “Bitter City” is waiting for relief from elsewhere but found disaster has come from the LORD.
- Addressing those who live in Lachish, so proud of its military might, Micah warns them to “harness the horses to the chariot (rachesh),” and so flee as fast as possible.
- As for the rulers of Zion, they will give away “Bride Town” as a dowry to the invaders, while the “town [workshops]” of “Deception City,” from which the rulers ones gathered riches, will prove deceptive now.
- The LORD “will bring a conqueror” (Heb. hayyoresh) against Mareshah (“Possession City”).
As the dirge began with a reprise of David’s career, so also its conclusion alludes to King David. David and his family successfully fled to Adullam and escaped Saul’s grip (1Sam 22:1–2). Three centuries later, his descendants unsuccessfully flee there and are taken into exile.
Woe to the Venal and Powerful (2:1–5)
2:1–3 “Woe” categorizes this judgment oracle as belonging to the same genre Jesus used to condemn his generation (Matt 23:13–17). The exclamation entails both the accusation (2:1–2) and judicial sentences (2:3–5). Micah accuses those who prepare evil plans and accomplish it because the power is in their hands. A wordplay on hashab, meaning both “prepares evil plans” and “plans calamity” (2:1, 3) links the accusation and the sentence and shows the sentence is just. The proud (see 2:3b) and powerful men, in violation of “do not covet” (Exod 20:17; Rom 7:8), “seize” the property of strong and capable “man” (Heb. geber, “strong man”). In this way, they sin against God. The LORD gave the stolen fields as a perpetual inheritance to the families of his kingdom of priests to sustain them in their worship.
2:4 The sentenced complain “[The LORD] allots our fields to traitors.” “Traitors” probably refers to a foreign nation. In Jeremiah 49:4 this same Hebrew word (translated “faithless”) denotes the Ammonites. The LORD gave the tribes of Israel the land as a usufruct (Lev 26)—that is to say, he gave the beneficiary the right to use the land to their advantage but retains the right to take it away if misused. In Micah’s day, the time of calamity came through the Assyrian invasions. The sentence is delivered in a mournful dirge that taunts the proud by quoting them. They confess both that the land is “[the LORD’s] possession” and that the LORD is the one who is taking it away from them. But instead of repenting, they—like Cain—nurse their self-pity.
2:5 The climactic conclusion represents the future redistribution of the land in the kingdom that the LORD Jesus Christ inaugurated in terms of Micah’s historic situation (cf. Josh 15–19). But none of the tyrants will be in the assembly of the LORD when the Sovereign will again divide the land by lot. Amazingly, believing Gentiles will participate in this experience (Ezek 47:22).
False Prophets and Jacob Exiled (2:6–11)
This doom oracle, in the form of a dialogue, consists of a summons to silence by false prophets to true prophets (2:6–7a), an accusation (2:7b–9), a sentence against the House of Jacob (2:10), and a postscript (2:11).
2:6 False prophets, who represent the establishment, summon true prophets, such as Micah and his peer, Isaiah (see Isa 1:1), to “not preach6 about these things” (i.e., eternal punishment for violating the Ten Commandments). Like Satan, they claim sinners will not die. God has so designed history that power and truth are often in conflict, and that truth wins by suffering.
2:7–9 True prophets will not be shouted down. The House of Jacob will be judged by its deeds. God’s Word that does not return to him void will bring good (i.e., bestow what is beautiful and beneficial) to the one who walks uprightly as measured by a healthy conscience and God’s revealed law (2:7b). The LORD accuses the proud and powerful: My nominal people (i.e., the apostates) have risen up like an enemy against their fellow men, women and children. The men who felt as secure in their homeland as soldiers returning from battle find to their dismay the establishment is their enemy. The apostates strip off the splendid robes that gave men dignity, drive the women out of their comfortable homes, and take away the blessing (ESV, cf. Ezek 16:9–14) that God gave their children for forever. Micah is the champion of the honest land owner. His focus is not on the landless, the poor in an agrarian society.
2:10 As the apostates had driven innocent families from their lands, the just LORD sentenced them to exile: “Get up and leave!” They defiled and ruined the land beyond remedy, just as the dispossessed Canaanites had. The land is no longer fit to be the resting place that God intended it to be.
2:11 In a postscript, Micah sarcastically adds: What the apostates want are prosperity preachers who promise “wine and beer”—that is to say, immediate health, wealth, and prosperity apart from ethics.
First Cycle: Oracle of Salvation (2:12–13)
2:12 In the first cycle’s salvation oracle, the LORD is represented as a Shepherd-King who protects his flock, Jacob. Speaking directly to Jacob he promises “I will indeed gather all of you”—a noisy throng—“like sheep in a pen.”
2:13 Then Micah sees him as their King, who “breaks open the way” of the pen, and who will “pass through before them.” It is an apt picture of the remnant (i.e., survivors beyond disaster, cf. Mic 2:11) of Judah that gathered behind the gate of Jerusalem (see 1:13) during Sennacherib’s blockade of the city and who were then delivered by the angel of the LORD in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (2Kgs 19:4, 31 [= Isa 37:4, 32]). This passage also finds a fulfillment when the LORD breaks open the way for the exiles and leads them back in a new exodus to Judah. Finally, it prefigures the true Shepherd-King, Jesus Christ, who protects and delivers the elect from Satan’s dominion into eternal salvation.
Second Cycle: Oracles of Doom (3:1–12)
The second cycle begins with three oracles of doom of the same length that pertain to the miscarriage of justice for personal gain by Israel’s leaders: corrupt political rulers (3:1–4), false prophets (3:5–8), and mercenary priests (3:9–12). To protect the defenseless, the LORD had set up over Israel’s judicial system a final court of appeal that consisted of the priest and an officiating judge (Deut 17:8–13). When a derelict priest and judge favored the rich and powerful, the LORD sent prophets to reform them. Tragically, however, even the prophets began to preach for personal gain. These doom oracles reach a crescendo in foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem (3:12). The Spirit-filled Micah functions as a foil to these false prophets (3:8).
Against Unjust Rulers (3:1–4)
3:1a Typically, the oracle against the rulers of Israel consists of a summons to hear (3:1; cf. 1:2) an accusation (3:1b–3), and a verdict (3:4).
3:1b–3 Micah accuses the magistrates by asking: “aren’t you supposed to know what is just?” In the Hebrew idiom, the question strongly asserts the conviction that the rulers knew the content of the law. They failed, however, because of their depraved hearts: they hate good (what promotes life) and love evil (what promotes death). And so, when their plundering of the defenseless is thought through to its logical conclusion, they are cannibals! Micah describes their gruesome preparation of the meal in vivid details to shock us to hear that truth.
This life is not a trial run.
3:4 The LORD justly sentences them to death: “they will cry out to the Lord” as the defenseless cried to them. But they cry too late. When judgment strikes, the LORD will “hide his face.” They discover neither purgatory nor second chance in this judgment; this life is not a trial run.
Against False Prophets (3:5–8)
This doom oracle for the prophets, those who say they speak for God, consists of accusation (3:5), judgment (3:6), and the example of Micah of what a prophet should be and preach (3:8).
3:5 The LORD accuses them: they are hirelings who lead my people astray into sin (cf. 3:8). And they are extortioners “who proclaim peace when they have food to sink their teeth into” but “declare war against the one who puts nothing in their mouths”.
3:6 God sentences these diviners to be disgraced. Like unclean lepers they will go about with covered mustaches, the area of their abused gift. The verdict of silence from God implies that God previously favored them with clairvoyance.
3:8 Micaiah ben Imlah explains that the prophets waging war against him were filled with a lying spirit from the heavenly council (see 1Kgs 22:19–23). This explanation fits Micah’s rejoinder: “As for me, however, I am filled with power by the Spirit of the LORD . . . with courage [valor].” Similarly, the Holy Spirit descended on the Son of God and empowered his apostles to turn the world upside-down, from death to life.
Against Venal Rulers, Priests, and Prophets (3:9–12)
The final doom oracle reprises and escalates the typical motifs: a summons to hear (3:9), an accusation (3:9–11), and a judicial sentence (3:12).
3:9–11 In addition to the unjust leaders (cf. 3:1–4) and false prophets (cf. 3:5–8), mercenary priests are also summoned to hear. The accusation motif focuses sharply on the venality of this Satanic trinity: leaders judge for a bribe, priests teach the law for a price, and prophets tell fortunes for money. The rulers not only “hate good and love evil,” but they “abhor justice and pervert everything that is right,” and so they “build Zion with bloodshed.” False prophets deluded them into thinking “no disaster will overtake us” (see 2:6–7).
3:12 They did not take into account that God chose to dwell in Zion, and so, he could choose to leave it. In Ezekiel’s vision, the cherubim and God’s glory vacated the temple, assuring the doom of Jerusalem, and stopped over the mountain east of the city. Their departure prefigures the glorious Son of God leaving the temple and going to the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, where he laments Jerusalem’s impending doom (Matt 24:1–22). And so, God rules that Jerusalem, like Samaria, “will become ruins,” and “the temple’s mountain [= temple hill]” will be “a high thicket.” Hezekiah, however, repented and the LORD relented (see Jer 26:18–19).
Second Cycle: Oracles of Salvation (4:1–5:15)
The following seven oracles of salvation pertain to “the last days [in days to come].” From Micah’s perspective, these days began with Israel’s return from exile in Babylon (4:5). In the New Testament, Christ inaugurated the “last days” with his atoning death, triumphant resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit after his ascension (Acts 2:17).
Zion will be Exalted (4:1–5)
4:1 Using the terms of his culture and in the symbolic language of a prophet, Micah, in a breath-taking shift, sees “plowed” Zion (3:12) firmly established as the highest of the mountains. The city is so exalted that people recognize it as the mountain of the living God and so “stream to it.”
4:2–4a Micah overhears the worshipers exhorting one another: “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the LORD.” There at his temple, his priests will teach them the law, and his prophets will preach his Word. Micah reflects upon what he has seen and heard and relates in detail three unfolding benefits: (1) God, through his Word, deescalates national tensions, (2) wars will cease, and (3) every individual will enjoy the fruit of his or her own labor with security.
4:4b–5 The oracle is drawn to a two-fold conclusion: (1) a saying formula: “the mouth of the Lord of Armies has spoken” and so is certain (4:4b); and (2) a liturgical response by the congregation: “all the peoples” still continue to walk “in the name of their gods,” but “. . . we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (4:5). The prophecy is now being fulfilled in the Church that is made up of many nations: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22).
The Remnant becomes a Strong Nation (4:6–7)
The next salvation oracle begins to unpack the vision of exalted Zion (Mic 4:1–5). The “last days” begin with “the day” when the remnant (cf. 2:12–13) are gathered after God had brought them to grief in their exile in Babylon. Like Jacob who, after his encounter with God became lame, they will become a strong nation and the LORD will rule over them forever. According to the New Testament, the Spirit-filled Church is that strong nation with an open-ended future (1Pet 2:9–10).
Jerusalem’s Dominion Restored (4:8)
The preceding oracles are further unpacked by introducing the Messiah, a shorthand term for the King who will rule over them when the “former dominion will be restored.” The recipient of this Messianic ruler is lame Israel. Messiah’s kingship, as Hebrew parallelism suggests, is the “watchtower”—that is to say, “a stronghold” (Heb. ‘ophel, an allusion to the mound that was the city of David). Jesus—the good, the great, the chief Shepherd of the flock (cf. John 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1Pet 5:4)—promised the gates of hell will not prevail over his Church (Matt 16:18).
God’s Secret Strategy (4:9–13)
Two original oracles have been so closely combined that they are best treated as a unified oracle. Both are addressed to daughter Zion (Mic 4:9–10, 11–13), assuring her that God her King (4:9, JPS) has a plan that the nations do not understand (4:11–12). Each oracle in the Hebrew text begins with an initial “now,” a reference to Zion’s/Jerusalem’s present distress, followed by commands: “writhe” in childbirth (4:9) and “rise and thresh.” The commands transform distress into salvation. These two original oracles are arranged logically, not chronologically. The first predicts Zion’s restoration from her exile in Babylon (c. 600–535 BC), and the second foresees her triumph over the Assyrians, who represent all her enemies.
4:9–10 As for the first of these oracles, Daughter Zion “writhes and cries out like a woman in labor” to bring forth the new age. To fulfill her destiny, she must leave Jerusalem and go to Babylon as happened in c. 587 BC. There, “there the Lord will redeem you from the grasp of your enemies,” as happened c. 537 BC.
4:11–13 As for the second of these oracles, the LORD “has assembled the many nations” that comprised the Assyrian army “like sheaves to the threshing floor” and made Zion like a threshing ox with invincible “horns of iron and hooves of bronze” so that she “will crush” the many nations and “devote to the LORD their plunder”. The vision is finding fulfillment in Christ’s triumphant Church.
Birth and Triumph of Messiah (5:1–6)
The next salvation oracle focuses on Messiah, who restores Israel’s former dominion (4:8) to the ends of the earth (5:4). The Daughter of Zion, the woman to give birth to a new age (4:9–10) now is “she who is in labor” and bears “a son” (i.e., the Messiah, 5:4). At the time of this prophecy Micah, using “we,” is holed up in Jerusalem with the remnant during the “siege laid against us” by the Assyrians in 701 BC. He begins his oracle with the Assyrian invasion and ends with “[the Messiah] will rule the land of Assyria” (5:6).
Like the preceding two unified oracles, this one also moves from present distress, introduced in the Hebrew text by initial “now” (5:1) to future salvation (5:2–6).
5:1 Here, the “daughter” is characterized as no bigger than a “troop” that is under attack, but Micah commands the remnant holed up with him in Jerusalem while “a siege is set against us” to hold out in faith. The present situation is desperate. The imperial Assyrian army (see 4:11) will “strike the judge of Israel [Hezekiah]on the cheek with a rod [scepter].” Israel’s human ruler is unable to defend himself; she must turn to her divine Ruler instead.
5:2 In another breathtaking move, Micah shifts his focus from the weak Hezekiah to the victorious Messiah. He begins his new focus on Messiah’s place of birth. God himself suffuses Bethlehem (Heb. “House of Bread”) in the district of Ephratah (Heb. “fruitful”) with glory by directly addressing it. “One will come from you,” not for himself, “to be ruler over Israel for me.” The LORD chose Bethlehem for two reasons. Firstly, because, “you7 are small.” Bethlehem was too “insignificant” to be mentioned “among the clans8 of Judah” in the cartographies of Joshua 15, 2 Chronicles 11:5–12, and Micah 1:10–16. God chooses the small and lowly for his saving acts “so that no one may boast before him” (1Cor 1:27–30). Secondly, because Messiah reprises the career of David, “who was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah” (1Sam 17:12). This is what is meant by “his origin is from antiquity, from ancient times.” This “root from the stump of Jesse” (Isa 11:1) restores David’s former dominion. Lowly Jesus, cradled in a manger for animals, more than fulfills the prophecy (Matt 2:6). His origins are in the eternal past (John 1:1).
5:3–4 “Therefore” (Mic 5:3), it can be inferred, “Israel will be abandoned” and not restored to its dominion until “when she who is in labor” (see 4:10) “has given birth” to the Messiah. She incorporates the believing remnant who, at the time of Jesus were people of faith, of prayer, and full of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:5–2:40). They participated in the birth of Jesus Christ. “The rest of [Messiah’s] brothers” began to return, which connotes repentance, to join this nucleus of true Israelites at Pentecost, when three thousand were added to their number (Acts 2:38). Today his brothers and sisters, whom Jesus defined as those who do his will (Mark 3:35), includes many millions of Gentiles. After inaugurating his kingdom, he “will shepherd them” and “his greatness will extend to the ends of the earth,” even as it does today. And “he will be their peace”—Micah identifies himself with the remnant, the true Israelites.
5:5–6 At the time Micah delivers his oracle, the Assyrians, the only enemy he ever knew, were besieging Jerusalem. And so, he represents Messiah’s enemies as the Assyrians. Also, using the language of his age, Micah identifies the restored remnant as having more than seven, the perfect number, “who will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” In the true reality being represented by these types in Micah’s symbolic vision, the enemy is the world, flesh, and Devil; the Shepherd is Jesus Christ; his commanders are the Spirit endowed elders (1Pet 5:1–5); their sword is the Word of God (Eph 4:7–12).
A Fragrance of Life, a Smell of Death (5:7–9)
As the remnant of Jacob becomes a strong nation, it will become, on the one hand, like “dew” and “showers,” always signs of God’s blessing. They come “from the LORD,” not human manipulation and will not “linger for mankind” but on God’s providence, faithfulness and grace. On the other hand, the transformed remnant will also become like a fearsome, ferocious “lion among animals of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which tramples and tears” with destructive power as it goes about like a sovereign over them. Actually, the hand of the Sovereign LORD will be “lifted up” over his enemies. And so, it can be inferred that God’s beneficence extends to those who worship him. In fulfillment, the triumphant Church is “an aroma that brings of life among those being saved; and an aroma that brings death among the perishing” (2Cor 2:14–16).
The LORD Protects His Kingdom (5:10–15)
The final oracle makes clear again that the sevenfold salvation will be fulfilled in that day (cf. 4:1). The LORD himself speaks directly to Israel. On the one hand, he will protect it from enemies within: He “will destroy [purge]” all their false confidences: war horses, strongholds, witchcraft (cf. Isa 2:6–8), and idols (5:10–14). These idols included both sacred stones—phallic symbols of a male god—and Asherah poles—fertility symbols of the female goddess. On the other hand, he will protect it from enemies without by “taking vengeance in anger and wrath
against the nations that have not obeyed me.”
Third Cycle: Oracles of Doom (6:1–7:7)
The third cycle consists of three doom oracles and a salvation oracle. Micah’s autobiographical comment (7:6) segues from the doom oracles into a unified salvation oracle (7:7).
A Lawsuit against Israel (6:1–8)
The first doom oracle consists of a summons to hear (6:1a) and an accusation (6:1b–8), but it lacks the typical judicial sentence, presumably to give Israel opportunity to repent (6:3, 5). “Listen to what the LORD is saying” (see 1:2; 3:1) is addressed to Israel, “my people” (6:3, 5) and may also function in the book’s final editing as a summons to hear the three doom oracles in the third cycle (oracle one, 6:1–8; oracle two, 6:9–16; oracle three, 7:1–7). The accusation is presented in the form of a lawsuit. It consists of setting up the courtroom scene (6:1b–2), the Plaintiff’s accusation (6:3–5), the accused’s defense (6:6–7), and the Plaintiff’s rebuttal (6:8).
6:1–2 As for the trial-scene, I AM appoints Micah as his human prosecutor. He must “rise” (i.e., act quickly) and “plead your case” (i.e., reclaim my right for the wrong done to me). Micah quickly obeys. He summons the personified mountains as witnesses because they are “the enduring foundations of the earth,” and as its oldest parts, they witnessed that Moses had predicted Israel’s apostasy and had duly threatened them with punishment (see Deut 32). The doom oracles assume that the Mosaic covenant had been faithfully handed down through the generations. “The LORD has a case against his people” is the way Micah summarizes the legal brief.
6:3–5 The prosecutor now allows the Plaintiff to speak for himself. Tenderly, as their Father, he addresses them as “my people.” He defends himself against their inferred accusation that he had overburdened them, presumably with the law, asking “what have I done to you or how have I wearied you?” or better, “testify against me” (6:3). The evidence shows that instead, the Plaintiff gave them birth in saving acts from Egypt to Gilgal (6:4–5). He explains that he had rescued them “from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from that place of slavery” and provided protection as they journeyed to Shittim, the last of their thirty-two camping sites before crossing the Jordan, to Gilgal. He singles out their original godly leadership to contrast them with the corrupt leadership he has now given apostate Israel (3:9): Moses (the ruler), Aaron (the priest), and Miriam (the prophetess). He also illustrates how he protected them by singling out their formidable political and spiritual enemies: Balak king of Moab and Baalam, his powerful prophet (Num 22–24). The Plaintiff pleads with the accused nation to remember the LORD’s saving acts. “To remember” means to “re-member,” “to participate,” “to make as a present reality”—the way Christians remember by singing Christmas carols as though they were participants at Christ’s birth (e.g., “O Come, all Ye Faithful”). So, to remember entails both faith and repentance, since Israel had forgotten (i.e., dis-membered).
6:6–7 Israel defends itself, representing itself as a corporate solidarity, by “I.” Instead of “re-member,” they bribe God so they can come before the LORD and to be pardoned. They increase the bribe from “burnt offerings” of “year-old calves,” to “thousands of rams,” to an absurd “ten thousand streams of oil” (typically measured in pints), to the outrageous “offspring of my body.” In fact, their defense condemns them. Their bribe reveals the crooks think they can make God an accomplice by bribing him, and they would bribe him as cheaply as possible. It also shows the absurdity and folly of salvation by works. Even offering their own offspring would not ease their guilt any more than a treasure of indulgences could ease Martin Luther’s conscience.
6:8 I AM rebuts the defense. They knew better (“he has told each of you”). Repentance and faith would produce the obviously necessary three-fold fruit. First, the repentant will act justly (see 3:1). Second, the forgiven will “show mercy,” in contrast to land-grabbing and cannibalizing the defenseless (2:1–5; 3:1–4). Third, the contrite will “walk humbly” with God—behaving “justly” with reference to the law.
The Covenant Curses Fulfilled (6:9–16)
The preceding oracle only accused the people, but its accusation stated what the LORD required: by faith “to remember” his past saving acts and so produce what he requires. This oracle shows they failed.
The oracle begins with summons by Micah to the city of Jerusalem (6:9a) followed by I AM’s summons (6:9b). The NAB better translates: “Hear, O tribe and city assembly.”9
6:10–12 I AM then accuses the rich people of commercial dishonesty: false measures and weights (6:10–11) and false speech (6:12), presumably to defend their corrupt practices. He introduces these charges with a rhetorical question: “Can I excuse?” This question obviously demands the answer “No!” As Allen notes, “Israel’s God is no Olympian, remote from everyday living.”10 If God turned a blind eye to unscrupulous practices, he would be the accomplice of sinners, and so guilty along with them.
6:13–15 I AM’s three-verse accusation is now matched by his three-verse judicial sentence. Hillers calls this catalogue of punishments “futility curses” and notes that “the guilty . . . undertake a course of action and inevitably [are] frustrated in it.”11 The author’s translation of verse 14 emphasizes this futility:
“You will eat and not be satisfied
for dysentery will strike your inward parts.
You will press toward birth,
but you will not deliver;
and what you do deliver
I will hand over to the sword;”12
They will also be frustrated in their harvests, both in the spring—“you will sow but not reap,” and in the fall—“you will press olives but not anoint yourself with oil, you will tread grapes but not drink the wine.” The Sustainer of the creation will not sustain those who denied sustenance to their neighbor. Their punishments fulfill the Mosaic Covenant’s curses (Lev 26:16; Deut 28:30–31).
6:16 The conclusion recapitulates the structure of accusation and judgment. The indictment (6:16a) compares them to the infamous apostates Omri and Ahab, and their fate is expressed by the observers’ “contempt,” or and “scorn.” The corruption and fate of the House of Omri is illustrated in the Naboth vineyard incident (2Kgs 21).
Jerusalem’s Social Structure Breaks Apart (7:1–7)
In this final doom oracle Micah speaks in an autobiographical “I.” The subject matter shifts from corruption in the marketplace to corruption in the court. When the plaintiff who has been cheated in the marketplace goes to court, he is denied justice unless he bribes the official. The oracle’s distinctive form is a lament: “What misery is mine.” The accusation motif is expressed by an allegory of harvesting summer fruit (7:1–4a) and the judicial sentence by an escalating picture of society unravelling (7:4b–6). The two motifs, each of three verses, are connected by the assonance of mesukah (“thorn hedge,” 7:4a) and mebukah (“confusion”). The day of God’s punishment is now immanent.
7:1–4a The accusation consists of an allegory of harvesting (7:1) and its interpretation by a summary statement (7:2a) and several metaphors: hunters (7:2b), skilled workers (7:3), and a thorn hedge (7:4a). The allegory presumes Israel’s law that harvesters were not to go back a second time and harvest what they missed but to leave those pickings for the poor (Lev 19:9–10). Alas, however, the poor prophet finds that the vineyard has been picked over and not one cluster of grapes, not even one of the early ripe figs, remains. The “fruit” that the LORD craves, but cannot find, are covenant-keeping and upright persons (i.e., judges, 7:3). The hunting metaphor connotes that the practices of every judge are sinister and deadly (see 3:1–4). The reference to two “hands” suggests both the judges and the powerful (literally, “the great one,” perhaps suggestive of the king) are so “good at accomplishing evil” that none escapes them without bribes. The best of them is worse than a thorn hedge—obstructing true justice and entangling and cutting anyone who would attempt to negotiate through their thicket of laws and rulings. What a contrast to the sweet grapes and figs they should have been! Christ Jesus is the true vine and those that abide in him yield the fruit of the Spirit. This is the fruit he craves.
7:4b–6 The condemnation consists of a general statement that the time of anarchy is at hand (7:4b) and illustrations are given (7:5–6), escalating from “a friend” to “the woman who lies in your arms” (7:5). Indeed, even the nuclear family turns against one another as enemies.
7:7 The “I” of 7:7 looks back to 7:1–6 and contrasts Micah with the corrupt officials and false prophets. But though full of misery, he is also full of hope. Micah’s hope is that God will answer his prayer for salvation beyond the exile in the salvation oracle that follows (7:9–20).
Third Cycle: Oracle of Salvation (7:8–20)
The climactic oracle is a unified composite of four formerly isolated oracles—here treated as stanzas—of almost equal length: (1) a song of trust (7:8–10), (2) a prophetic salvation oracle (7:11–13), (3) The LORD answers Micah’s petition to shepherd his people (7:14–17), and (4) a praise hymn (7:18–20).
7:8–10 In the song of trust, Lady Jerusalem confesses to her enemy, Lady Nineveh,14 her faith in the LORD. In every verse she mentions the LORD: in her confession of faith—The LORD “will be my Light”; in her confession of sin—“I must endure the LORD’s fury”; and in the blasphemer’s mouth—“Where is the LORD your God?” Like the next two stanzas, the first two verses feature Zion’s salvation and the last verse, the enemy’s destruction. The LORD’s wrath is just but her enemies unprovoked attack against must be righted. And so, she successfully pleads her case (see 6:1) to be avenged.
7:11–13 Micah, God’s messenger, responds to her prayer with a salvation oracle having two parts. On the one hand Jerusalem will be restored: rebuild her walls (7:12) and extend her boundaries from Egypt (lit. “Affliction Place”) to Assyria on the Euphrates. On the other hand, the wicked behavior of the people will cause the land to be like a desert wasteland.
7:14–17 Micah intercedes for all those who will repent and turn to the LORD. He pleads that the LORD would shepherd his people once more. God’s elect sheep will live in the idyllic forest-like orchard15 as they did before they rebelled against their Good Shepherd. God’s response to Micah’s prayer is to promise to care for his sheep once more, as he did in the Exodus when he fed them manna, the bread of heaven. But the nations who said, “where is your God?” will resort to licking dust in abject humiliation, and instead of the pastoral relationship with the LORD that his people enjoy, these enemies will cower in fear as they turn to him.
7:18–20 The climactic hymn praises God who delights to show mercy and pardons sin. He so triumphs over sin that he hurls all his people’s iniquities into the depths of the sea, even as he did to Pharaoh’s elite army (Exod 14–15). Rather than viewing compassion as a whim or as a new addition to his character, Micah reminds us that the LORD’s mercy is a deep-seated feature of his covenant loyalty, promised in antiquity and maintained in perpetuity.
Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976.
Andersen, Francis and Freedman, David Noel. Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2000.
Calvin, John. Sermons on the Book of Micah. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003.
Prior, David. The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999.
Shaw, Charles H. The Speeches of Micah: A Rhetorical-Historical Analysis. JSOTSuppl. 145 Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993.
Waltke, Bruce K. “Micah” in The Minor Prophets, Vol. 2. Thomas Edward McComiskey, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.
Waltke, Bruce K. A Commentary on Micah. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.
Endnotes & Permissions
1. ANET, 288.
2. Claus Westermann, Basic Forms of Prophetic Speech, trans. H. C. White (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 93.
3. For other analyses of the book’s structure see Charles Shaw, The Speeches of Micah (1993).
4. See Richard L. Pratt. Jr., “Historical Contingencies and Biblical Prediction, in The Way of Wisdom (Zondervan, 2000), 180–203.
5. Hebrew inflects all nouns as masculine or feminine. When speaking of an inanimate object such as city (feminine), it must be personified as an animate feminine. So, “city” is personified as “daughter” (cf. 5:1).
6. In Hebrew the verb is plural.
7. “Although” (KJV, NIV) is not in the Hebrew text.
8. Matthew 2:6f, along with other reformulations of the verse, reads “chiefs” for textual or interpretive reasons (i.e., to form a better contrast).
9. Waltke, A Commentary on Micah, 394–97.
10. Allen, Micah, 378.
11. Hillers, Micah, 82.
12. Waltke, Micah, 402f.
13. Waltke, Micah, 405.
14. “Do not gloat” in Hebrew is a feminine singular.
15. Waltke, Micah, 441.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
The Coming Destruction
2 Hear, you peoples, all of you;1
pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
3 For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,
and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
4 And the mountains will melt under him,
and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place.
5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
and uncover her foundations.
7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.
8 For this I will lament and wail;
I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
9 For her wound is incurable,
and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
10 Tell it not in Gath;
weep not at all;
roll yourselves in the dust.
11 Pass on your way,
inhabitants of Shaphir,
in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
do not come out;
the lamentation of Beth-ezel
shall take away from you its standing place.
12 For the inhabitants of Maroth
wait anxiously for good,
because disaster has come down from the LORD
to the gate of Jerusalem.
13 Harness the steeds to the chariots,
inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
the transgressions of Israel.
14 Therefore you shall give parting gifts2
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
to the kings of Israel.
15 I will again bring a conqueror to you,
inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
shall come to Adullam.
16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
for they shall go from you into exile.